Review Summary: Just the beer light to guide us
When we’re told to “reach for stars
,” it isn’t with the expectation of spiralling back down to Earth. A Moon Shaped Pool
contains themes of far-reaching otherworldliness, but with a mix of both self-awareness and oblivion. It’s often apathetic, with a greater-than-thou beauty that seems to fade in and out of the protagonist’s focus. It creates a sense of both introspection and indifference, which is so very, very
Thom Yorke. A Moon Shaped Pool
sees Yorke in motivational self-conflict, with, inevitably, varying degrees of success. From opener “Burn the Witch” to closer “True Love Waits”, a general theme is one of prioritization, and the relevant success/failure tandem. “Burn the Witch” is a case where the bombast of the message is more important than the execution implied; the gravity of the circumstance is trivialized a bit by the bouncy, orchestral arrangements and Yorke’s lofty delivery. “True Love Waits” is much the opposite, with stripped-down instrumentation, and a remorseful approach; the genuineness of the message is everything, as is the direness in execution. Throughout its runtime, A Moon Shaped Pool
wanders between priorities, but seems to retrace to the same spot in the sky.
Early highlight “Daydreaming” is both a lament and stark compliance. Yorke sings, “dreamers, they never learn / beyond the point of no return
,” with a hopeless, skyward vibrato, while the production suits what will be an ongoing theme of galactic ambience. Cleverly, the tone shifts in warmth to a sort of nerve-stapled acceptance as the instrumentation drowns out the demented vocal excerpts. It’s bizarrely evocative, emotional in its lack of conveyed emotion - a balance Yorke tackles with often mixed success. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” (oof) is similar-ish in this sense, but less compelling, with the most engaging moments not being Radiohead, but the London Contemporary Orchestra on string duty. When Yorke insists, “all you have to do is say ‘yes’ ,
” he resembles a pseudo-spritual guru trying to sway a friend into taking a leap, testing the waters of drugs or sex or whathaveyou, but Yorke mostly sounds bored. Few vocalists can pull off "whimsically bored” quite like Yorke, and perhaps fewer can accommodate this better than producer Nigel Godrich. “Desert Island Disk” encompasses lazy stargazing, and would be nothing if not for Godrich’s cosmic sprinkle. Drummer Philip Selway doesn’t get much juice on A Moon Shaped Pool
, either; feverish head-bobber “Ful Stop” remedies this, with an infectiously gradual momentum, addictive bass, quirky vocal delivery, and humorously spiteful themes.
“True Love Waits” is an unexpected high point, and probably shouldn’t be. The regretful, longing vocals and piano formula has been done exhaustively, but it has a very grounded, planning-for-failure flavour that develops into the most powerful moment on A Moon Shaped Pool
. The way Thom insists, “don’t leave
,” carries the sentiment of someone who’s known the response for years in advance, as though he’s exhausted his partner’s patience irreparably, and is compensating pointlessly after they’re already out the door and well beyond earshot. Lines like, “I’ll drown my beliefs / to have your babies
,” are those of desperation, as one willing to cast aside everything they stand for beyond the scope of parenthood for what could prove to be marital appeasement, and unlikely to resolve anything. The emotional component of A Moon Shaped Pool
is hard to pin down, which makes the frankness of “True Love Waits” more effective. In some ways, this album is comparable to Amnesiac
in that it opts for wide-sweeping atmosphere as opposed to song-driven formats; A Moon Shaped Pool
regularly returns to themes of space, wanderlust, and ensuing disappointment. The problem is the aesthetics aren’t always fully ingrained, and often feel like mere seasoning and spice. A song like “Identikit” shines, as it’s a more impressive track instrumentally, featuring retro-futurist synths, a catchy bass line, and a progression that lifts to the clouds before regressing into staccato guitar rhythms. It succeeds without relying on bells and whistles.
As A Moon Shaped Pool
navigates through mostly-highs and occasional-lows, that spot in the sky remains in the peripherals. The album is in a recurring state of anxiety regarding the unattainable, constantly weighing pros and cons, second-guessing; at times, moving the goal posts, making the unattainable just beyond arm's reach instead of lightyears away, then letting it somehow slip even further. This is all a way of saying that Radiohead occasionally lose themselves in transience - and, there's a fine line between exploring and time-wasting. The way the tracks are arranged, particularly the final stretch prior to “True Love Waits”, hinder the momentum and immersion, as though Radiohead are watching their toes turn into prunes while you observe from the poolside. (No doubt, fans will collaborate in reworking the tracklisting to suit their own preferences.) Perhaps the deliberately alphabetical arrangement was a gentle nudge in this sense, encouraging fans to rearrange what was meant to be an indeterminate album; or, maybe the mystique surrounding Radiohead leads us to give them bonus credits. Regardless of all this, A Moon Shaped Pool
sees Thom Yorke gazing into his own reflection. It makes for one of Radiohead's most personal efforts, but also an elusive one. Yorke often loses himself to the point of losing others. Those able to ride in his emotional wake will be captivated - those by the curb will forget A Moon Shaped Pool
like the receding tide.