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Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool CD (album) cover

A MOON SHAPED POOL

Radiohead

 

Crossover Prog

3.90 | 352 ratings

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rogerthat
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Thank God Radiohead tracks are on the shorter side! The other day I sat down in my suburban train and basked in the sounds of Daydreaming followed by Decks Dark (both tracks from the new album A Moon Shaped Pool). So lost was I in the music that had Decks Dark not wound down in time, I would have missed my change station. Aw, you thought I was going to say they can't make epics and all that ;)

And the above sums up the experience of listening to A Moon Shaped Pool. It is perhaps the least innovative Radiohead album from Bends and onwards (which is NOT to say it lacks innovation) and yet it is also like no other Radiohead album. After all this time, Thom Yorke & Co (or should I say Johnny Greenwood & Co) segue from experimentation to emotion and have just made the most lovely, organic and heartfelt album of recent times. There is less (next to no) frenzy in this album but tons and tons of involvement. Radiohead have arrived.

Let's just take the two tracks I mentioned at the outset. Daydreaming starts with a calm, soft piano figure on loop and proceeds into Yorke's characteristic undecipherable wailing. But at the end of each vocal fragment is a Tony Banks-like progression. Now where did that come from? This theme endures throughout the album (also noticeable in the little choir-keyboard interlude in Identikit for example). From nowhere, very 70s sounding passages of music blend seamlessly into Radiohead's characteristic....well, what is it, alt rock, electronica, prog rock ;) ?

On this album, more than ever, Radiohead's music defies categorisation. At first brush, it appears to lean more towards rock and yet the construction of tracks like Daydreaming or Tinker Tailor is more, well, progressive and avoids the usual verse-chorus pattern. And yet, the album sounds the most organic, the most, well, graceful that a Radiohead album could ever. Phil Selway in particular handles it all with a very light touch but the orchestration too is majestic, flowing, delicate (yes, all these things at the same time) in ways you've never heard on a Radiohead album. Radiohead may not have broken into new frontiers genre wise on this album but their very approach to making music appears to have changed.

How is this explained, especially when you consider that a good proportion of the tracks have already been performed live for years? The answer is Johnny Greenwood. I am led to believe that Greenwood's work in scoring for films carried over into this album and if that is so, then I do see the hand of a master orchestrator. The songs transform from their embryonic versions owing to the way they are built up, the way they are embellished with a tapestry of intricate figures, loops and just plain sound at times. And so it is that we land up with this wonderful blend of strings arrangements, electronic music, 70s throwbacks and, finally, just good old Radiohead guitar.

Which brings me to Decks Dark. A song so vulnerable in its despairing solitude it brought me to the verge of tears (and on checking out conversations on the internet, I found I was not alone). Anyway...it starts with yet another piece of soft, calm piano that underpins Yorke's plaintive vocals. Which in turn lead into a very gloomy, wailing choir that accompanies the comparatively more animated chorus. And then, in the end, almost without warning, we are led into a sharp, though still slow, guitar riff. But wait...there's actually piano overlaying the guitar....

Describing the multitude of twists and turns in this albums and the little surprises it keeps springing on me as I listen more and more would take eons. Plus, doing so would only spoil the fun for you the listener. Suffice it to say that this is an album that feels crafted rather than put together and an album where creative choices seem to flow from the emotion sought to be expressed rather than creativity for the sake of creativity itself.

Radiohead remain to this day a contentious addition to this website. A Moon Shaped Pool is the closest they have got to making an album that may perhaps be found by old school progheads to be prog (though I wouldn't hold my breath). Progressive not for time sig complexity but progressive simply because mainstream non progressive rock has no use for so much intricacy and depth of musicianship. It sounds an odd thing to say for an album that I described as the least innovative Radiohead album from Bends onwards, but A Moon Shaped Pool will stand the test of time better than its illustrious predecessors OK Computer and Kid A and is, in my admittedly premature estimation, a greater achievement than those celebrated albums. One of the most thoughtful and intelligent bands of our times have connected with their soul and in the process given us one for the ages. Five stars.

rogerthat | 5/5 |

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