Band Adulthood – a term coined in an interview in the back catalogues of music aficionados Pitchfork. In layman’s terms, a band’s adulthood is when they’ll start to release albums that, for the average listener, is passable but for the devotees is another milestone in their favourite band’s discography. This is usually around the time when many say the act in question are past their time and should put their instruments to rest.
If we try to apply this logic to Radiohead, we’d be struggling. The band have somehow avoided this pitfall altogether, cavorting melodically past adulthood and transcending into an immortal state, despite Thom Yorke and co. all pushing 50. That alone should be an achievement but A Moon Shaped Pool, their ninth LP, isn’t just another great album but a further evolution of a band that never cease to be timeless.
In hindsight, Burn The Witch was a bit misleading with its dynamic momentum implying that we’d be given an album with a kick in it. Instead what we have been given is a record that transitions from a haunting nightmare into a beautiful dream and vice versa on a whim. Take Daydreaming for example, a song that for the majority of its running time is beautifully minimalistic and driven solely by piano alongside some glitzy chimes with a Jamie XX flare to them. All of this results in a calm, borderline lullaby that dips its toes in fearsome waters before diving head first into them during the climax, sinister strings preluding monstrous vocals that chant “Half of my Life” in reverse.
A Moon Shaped Pool isn’t so much a horror rather than a tranquil thriller. The qualms detailed by Yorke’s drony vocals aren’t supernatural, rather they’re firmly footed in realism. Positioning Daydreaming and True Love Waits, a Radiohead classic at this point despite only just now appearing on an LP, far away from another is some great positioning from the band’s part, the former planting those seeds of misery with the latter solidifying them. It’s no surprise that there’s such a sad aura surrounding this album considering Yorke’s 25 year marriage coming to an end as well as Nigel Godrich losing his father: Heartbreak and loss runs through this LP’s DNA but it’s so well realised that it adds another layer to this already cohesive release, instead of being the sole concept.
There’s many parallels to the band’s previous work in not only sound but also thoughts. Take for instance the aforementioned Burn The Witch which evokes the same paranoid nature of OK Computer, detailing the big brother state we find ourselves slipping into though assuming the track would slip nicely onto that LP would be foolish considering how instrumentally different the two are. Even Ful Stop, a highlight on an album full of highlights, feels like a distant relative to In Rainbows and acts as a nice break from the soothing albeit disturbed songs that come before it.
Many cynics will criticise reviews so positive for being fuelled by not only hype but love for the artist themselves but A Moon Shaped Pool manages to leave a positive imprint on the listener’s mind after every playthrough. Swapping out paramount guitars with ambient keyboard sounds and creating this irresistible, distinct sound makes it clear that you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks but Radiohead will certainly lead the class.