A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead Remote Control There are moments on A Moon Shaped Pool that are nothing short of terrifying. Take the opening track, Burn the Witch, a song that has been knocking around Radiohead rehearsals and recording sessions for 17 years. Leave aside singer Thom Yorke’s typically eerie falsetto and a lyric that, in its gloomy vision of a society corrupted by evil (“avoid all eye contact / do not react”), is chilling. The clincher comes in the screeching menace of the strings, played with great gusto by the London Contemporary Orchestra, that sit high and mighty alongside Yorke, driving the song at a relentless pace to a thrilling climax. Then comes Daydreaming, on the surface a piano ballad with Yorke at his most morose (”we’re at the point of no return”), but what suddenly makes you want your mum are the seemingly disconnected tunes floating around underneath — fractured, backward loops, delicate synth motifs, twisted harmonies and, most of all, a kind of deep, disturbing wail that has to be coming from somewhere under the stairs.
This is one of the great strengths of Radiohead’s follow-up to 2011’s The King of Limbs. There are plenty of the band’s familiar strains — Jonny Greenwood’s delicate, intricate guitar melodies, the intensely musical rhythm section and Yorke’s unnervingly demanding voice. What the band has taken to another level is the filmic quality of the music, a shift influenced no doubt by Greenwood’s second career as a film composer ( There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice). A band that likes to experiment and create in the studio has taken that modus operandi into new terrain here, aided once again by producer Nigel Godrich. It takes several listens to fully appreciate how much is going on. This undercurrent creates a mood, a mesh that makes A Moon Shaped Pool whole, yet each song stands tall on its own. The pervading gloomy sentiments, which seem to centre on the state of the planet, are matched by music that is joyous and adventurous: angst pitted against carefully crafted dynamics.
Highlights include Desert Island Disk, with its vaguely Spanish acoustic guitar introducing Yorke in folkie mode. “Different types of love are possible,” he sings, and then it’s gone. Ful Stop is a sinister sonic assault of bass, drums and synths forming a bed for Yorke’s aching falsetto. It is hauntingly beautiful. So too is the short ballad Glass Eyes, where Yorke’s compelling, weary vocal offsets the romantic piano and strings. The Numbers has the feel of a 70s rock band jam, while Present Tense is an almost poppy shuffle. “I’m not living, I’m just killing time,” Yorke sings on the stark closer, True Love Waits. Not much room for optimism in his world view, then, but once again he and his colleagues have created a complex, affecting, original work of art that is worthy of praise and celebration. Twenty-five years into its career, Radiohead can alarm and surprise — and be a little scary.