A Moon Shaped Pool review by Radiohead

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  • Released: May 8, 2016
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.3 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.8 (58 votes)
Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
3

Sound — 8
Radiohead's legacy not only made its mark in terms of the music they made - from the universally-lauded likes of "OK Computer" to the esoteric experimentation of "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" - but also in terms of how they impacted the music industry, like highlighting the practice of a "pay what you want" pricing with their 2007 album, "In Rainbows," and being a major voice in denouncing the economics of music streaming services (although seeing as "In Rainbows" recently made its way onto Spotify, that may be a battle Radiohead just can't win).

While that legacy is properly cemented, Radiohead's previous album, the limp and unintriguing "The King of Limbs," didn't leave the band on a strong note before their hiatus in 2012. In the meantime, plenty of the band's members kept busy with their own respective projects: guitarist Jonny Greenwood continued to do soundtrack work with Paul Thomas Anderson; drummer Philip Selway releasing his second studio album "Weatherhouse"; and Thom Yorke juggled plenty of things, from also releasing his second studio album "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes," forming the supergroup Atoms For Peace with RHCP's Flea, or taking a turn for the absurd by composing a single song that was apparently 18 days long. But while plenty were still yearning for a new Radiohead album, lo and behold, the band were indeed working on that returning album in the meantime, keeping quiet about it until promptly dropping the news a week before its release.

Surprises aside, Radiohead's ninth album, "A Moon Shaped Pool," recalibrates the band's sonic capabilities in a number of ways. One can catch plenty of bits and pieces that call back to their previous work, whether it be the odd synthwork heard in "The Numbers" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief" that calls back to the likes of "Kid A" and "Amnesiac," the looping vocal samples in "Daydreamers" and "Present Tense" that echo the likes of "In Rainbows" and "The King of Limbs," or the fact that they finally put their old, unreleased song "True Love Waits" on the album in the form of a piano ballad. But compared to their previous album, what livens up "A Moon Shaped Pool" for the better is a reinvestment in the band's conventional instruments. Bassist Colin Greenwood sticks out the most here, where his activity reaches up to a "Hail to the Thief"-era noteworthiness (best heard in "Decks Dark" and "Ful Stop"), and from Jonny Greenwood's lead guitarwork in "Identikit," to the standout acoustic guitar elements in the somber folksiness of "Present Tense" and the J Mascis-type trickiness of "Desert Island Disk," Radiohead's guitar elements are much more satisfying this time around.

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With a more noteworthy performance aspect to the album, the other element that's just as captivating, if not more so, is the orchestral flavor in "A Moon Shaped Pool." With Greenwood only growing more tenured as an orchestral composer in the past few years, the string sections woven throughout the album are more exquisite than ever before, blooming from the synthetic likes of "Tinker Tailor..." with aplomb, and carrying the underwater-like piano melody in "Glass Eyes" to a beautiful apex. But despite the richness of this element, it doesn't prove to be universally beneficial, and along with the string sections that pop up later on in "The Numbers" feeling a bit gratuitous, the positive, staccato pep to the strings in "Burn the Witch" give off a similar vibe as Coldplay's "Viva La Vida."

Lyrics — 8
Only emphasizing his esoteric style of writing, Yorke's lyrics in "A Moon Shaped Pool" are noticeably more terse than in previous albums, with him giving the listener little to grab ahold of when trying to ascertain the context of what he's singing about. But while some of these cases are about articulating a theme with brevity, like the mocking inflection of society's milquetoast thought processes towards unjustly-defined pariahs in "Burn the Witch" ("Stay in the shadows / Cheer at the gallows"), Yorke's repetition of lyrics that are heard often are meant as a simple accentuation of feelings. This goes hand in hand with the album's main theme of damaged love, which is arguably inspired by Yorke's recent separation with his wife. Yorke goes from lamenting idyllic foolishness in "Daydreamers" ("Dreamers / They never learn... And it's too late / The damage is done") to self-consciously questioning a relationship's looming end in "Decks Dark" ("Have you had enough of me?"), but also shows a bitter side in the accusatory likes of "Ful Stop" ("You really messed up everything... Why should I be good if you're not?"). And though there are moments where Yorke indicates the choice to move forward, whether with invigoration in "Desert Island Disk" ("So let me go upon my way / Born of a light") or apathy in "Glass Eyes" ("The path trails off / And heads down a mountain / Through the dry brush, I don't know where it leads / I don't really care"), his desire to stick around and persevere comes off stronger in "Present Tense" ("I won't stop now / I won't slack off / Or all this love / Will be in vain") and dovetails nicely with the old relic of "True Love Waits."

Overall Impression — 9
In both its role as a returning album and the latest installment of Radiohead's illustrious catalog, "A Moon Shaped Pool" achieves its goals well. With its stronger orchestral output acting as the freshest characteristic for the album, Radiohead make a good call reigniting the "rock" aspect of their sound to a sensible degree (parlaying from the lukewarm results of their previous album), and their tethering of subtle stylistic parallels to previous albums duly succeed in keeping the album attached to its predecessors without simply repeating itself. Ultimately, this combination of organic rock, synthetic oddity and symphonic richness makes for an impressive trifecta of capability for Radiohead.

55 comments sorted by best / new / date

    thom@ksaa.ch
    radiohead might be pretentious -or seen as such- but their music is at least twice as good and memorable as I can ever describe. i often needed to listen to their albums many times before starting to really enjoy them, so it might be too soon to give up Hugo... in my case i just don't get thom yorke's solo albums, absolutely no way to get into it. but this moon shaped pool is a gem that i won't stop playing any time soon
    turismo1338
    Great album. Really beautiful.
    tomwebbsayshi
    Beautiful is probably the best word to describe this album, +1. I have listened through this album many times now, and I would say it is very much on par with In Rainbows. It is a pleasure to listen to.
    Just2340
    "...staccato pep to the strings in 'Burn the Witch' give off a similar vibe as Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida.'" When I am King, you will be first against the wall. Love the appreciation for Colin. Love this album.
    Like I Is
    This is a lovely album. Very intimate, very relaxing, and very patient. I must say that on the whole, hardcore Radiohead fans (which I am) can generally be more pretentious than the actual band is. During interviews, shows, and even a Reddit AMA, Thom basically said that not all the words have actual meanings. He doesn't consider his writing to be confessional (although MSP might be the exception), and most of the time is pretty tongue-in-cheek with his writing. I mean, for Pete's sake, nearly every song on Kid A was written by pulling random scraps of lyrics out of a hat. You don't really think he wished it was the 60s, or that he was Jim Morrison, do you? Like he sings on Decks Dark, "It's whatever you say it is". So if people want to keep treading out the same tired arguments about them being "pretentious" or "chronically miserable", they would do well to pay a bit more attention to how Radiohead actually does things before they write them off as posh art-rock.
    jimmyslashpage
    One of my favorite bands hands down. I do agree that some of the lyrics must be nonsense. I liken them to the Beatles in many regards and this is one of them. People read so far into John's lyrics that he even wrote Glass Onion about it. "Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul."
    Kueller917
    It's always really been the fanbase that inflates Radiohead's untouchable status. The famed comments of Kid A not being that complex come to mind. The band have some self-reflection that they're just a sum of their influences as much as anyone else. They can be a little stuck up but I've seen a lot worse.
    godhelpus
    Love this album. Great use of strings. Took a couple of listens to really appreciate, same as King of Limbs, but once you're in it you're in deep. Been waiting for a studio version of True Love Waits since I first heard these guys as well.
    The_Dude_502
    10 out of 10, oh my god, 10 out of 10. It's much less of a grower musically, than King Of Limbs, but lyrically, it's like very hard to even describe how personal it is for Thom. Plus the point that the tracks are made in alphabetical order and genuinely follow up one after another like they are really meant to be there, is totally mind blowing.
    clavisra
    Comparing the strings in "Burn the Witch" to "Viva la Vida" is like comparing pad thai to spaghetti-o's, because, pasta. (And I love Viva la Vida.) They are truly, not even remotely alike. Train your ears. For penance, go listen to Burn the Witch twice a day, every day, for a week, or until you can hear that layered nuance and complexity of shifting dissonance.
    N7Crazy
    I've been a fan of Radiohead for quite a while in my life, and while a lot of people loved this record immediatly, I actually had to put some effort into "getting it" - I struggled to find the songs that I usually get hooked on with every new record, and a lot of the songs seemed lacking in dynamic. But given time, it's begun to settle, and I find myself listening more and more to it, with Burn the Witch, Decks Dark, Ful Stop, Identikit and True Love Waits being my favorites right now. While some use descriptions like "pretty" and "intimate" (not that I disagree), I find the most apt description of this album being "laid back". With the exception of Burn The Witch and the second half of Ful Stop, most of the songs are at a very relaxed mid-tempo, not rushing to build to a climax or different segment, but instead taking its time to make the melodies stand out. It's not my favorite album, but I'd reckon within a year or two, I'll probably rank it somewhere between Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief.
    Artifracture
    When they released Burn the Witch as the first single, I was super disappointed. But then I heard Daydreaming and was blown away. I like all of the songs now, but to varying degrees.
    Artifracture
    Not their best, not their worst. Definitely their prettiest. I rank it between TKOL and Hail to the Thief. Highlights: True Love Waits, Daydreaming, Ful Stop, The Numbers.
    jasperado
    i like that they actually play guitar on this one
    N7Crazy
    3 songs on the King of Limbs were driven by guitars, with another two that featured them in a conventional way, meaning there was only 3 tracks that didn't use guitars - And the record before that (In Rainbows) was pretty much entirely guitar driven save two songs. Why do people keep saying "they don't play guitar anymore" when they clearly still do?
    jasperado
    well if you break it down yes, technically there is some guitar, but when you compare the newer albums to say, the bends, or ok computer, there is very little guitar. A lot of people say that because its true. thom got way into the electronic side of it, not saying I didn't like it, just saying its nice to hear more guitar because thats why i'm on this damn site, i like guitars
    ummagumma3030
    king of limbs live from the basement is the only way to listen to that album...i think that's why they did the show, the album was too restrained and tense sounding compared to the live version, which was guitar heavy
    HugoPan
    The most pretentious band that ever walked the earth. their music is not as half as good or memorable as their fans or themselves describe. Another failed atempt to get into their sound for me. I should give up by now.
    LoseTheGenre
    "The most pretentious band that ever walked the earth" C'mon man, they just make their music and put it out there. Your statement is a bit unfair.
    Abacus11
    HugoPan - What bands or artists DO you like? Maybe I could recommend some Radiohead songs or an album that you might be able to get into. Radiohead has been one of my favorite bands in the world for over 20 years but I also like a lot of different kinds of music - metal, rock, punk, hip hop, folk, electronic music, you name it. That's actually one of the reasons that I like RH so much... their music has different elements that I love from other genres and puts it all together in a unique and awesome way. They're also constantly evolving. Some people will just never like certain bands, that's a fact. With Radiohead though, I feel like there's such a diverse catalog that most people are bound to like SOMETHING that they've done. What are you into?
    shosh-jort
    why did you even bother to type that out? Most people reading this actually like the band and don't give a shit what some random guy on the internet thinks.
    HugoPan
    Because this is a comment section. it is not a 'praise' section. and like I said, i heard the album and did not like it, I'm not coming here just to say 'wooo they suck' like some hater. And I supose that you're not one of those who don't give a shit to what a random guy says in the internet, or else you would even bother to post a reply.
    selkayann
    Personally, I believe that Radiohead are one of the most honest bands out there. Thom just writes whatever he wants to write. For example, when Creep (which they hated) succeeded, they actually wrote a song about having to keep touring with it (My Iron Lung).
    drooce
    honestly this comment is so true. I hear you man. I like radiohead myself but their last two albums lost me, and were a major disappointment. this IS a comment thread not a praise thread. I guess some people don't want to discuss the cons. Only the pros, which to me, is stupidly one sided. Whats the point on discussing something if you're not willing to discuss all sides good or bad? for me, Radiohead were amazing up until the king of limbs. Pure trendy garbage in my opinion. But one of my favorite albums of all time has got to be OK computer. if you want to give them one last try.
    Damascus
    The idea that the original comment was remotely inviting of discussion and not an all-out troll-esque trashing is ridiculous. For me - at least after the Basement versions were released - tKoL is one of my favourite albums. I'm pretty out of touch with trends, so that could be the reason it didn't seem at all trendy to me. Moon Shaped Pool, on the other hand, I haven't felt like listening to since the first time I heard it. Feels washy. Maybe even wishy. I may come around in time, though - similar things happen with most radiohead albums for me.
    Chickendirt
    There's a difference between critiquing something and just dissing it. ''The most pretentious band'' that's all you need to know to tell the difference. They could have had a well thought reason as to why but know, they just go ahead and diss them. Easy to say stuff behind a keyboard
    Bart123
    Prententious how? Good and memorable are subjective. I do think they have a lot of obnoxious fans, like the kind that yell the lyrics into your ear at concerts and cheer loudly at every move Thom makes. That's why I don't go see them because I think it would ruin it for me, prefer just the music + me.
    javathemocha
    You're absolutely correct. It's total crap. It's completely devoid of content or substance. Any concept covered is handled in such a way as to suck any emotion or excitement right out of it. It's just a bunch of dreary-sounding, pseudo-insightful garbage.
    javathemocha
    You're right. It's complete crap. There's no substance or content. Just dreary-sounding, pseudo-insightful garbage.
    blooddrunk
    Its lazy and formulaic. The sign of a stagnant band who no longer give a shit.
    Redfinton22
    Oh, what formula are they using for all of their songs on this record? I've listened to it about fifteen times and haven't caught on for some reason
    vppark2
    Dude, I'm not into this band either, but you make some of the most ridiculous comments I've ever seen on this website. If it's not your thing, I get it, but don't bash it when it actually takes talent to write this sort of music.
    ummagumma3030
    i was a little let down by this one...but Daydreaming and Burn The Witch and Deck's Dark do it for me, shame they didn't put Spectre on it.
    Kueller917
    Beautiful music, and I can dig the styles a lot more than I did the last album (I did really like The King of Limbs though, that seems an unpopular opinion). There's a lot of subtle masterwork in here but I would like to hear them go a bit more in your face again. Yorke's voice especially has been a bit standard in these past couple of albums, and I miss some of the power I heard in tracks like Nude.
    AusMakka
    A much better album than King Of Limbs. I'm really enjoying this one.