Anxiety fails Radiohead on new disc
Radiohead has been turning paranoia into perfume for so long, there’s no need to worry if you’ve become inured to the scent. The group’s ninth album, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” is just another dip into dystopian melancholy, another exercise in aestheticized anxiety.
After two decades of beautiful doomsaying, this band has never appeared more comfortable in its discomfort than it does right now. Radiohead’s most galvanizing music has always felt like a warning against whatever sinister energies happened to be clotting on the horizon — technological oppression, corporate mindcontrol, perpetual warfare — but here, the group sounds defeated, deflated and bored with its own distress.
This is a lean album, largely stripped of the rich electronic tissue that makes the best Radiohead albums worth absorbing on expensive earphones.
Instead, the band does its most serious work with pianos, acoustic guitars and the help of the London Contemporary Orchestra.
The cumulative effect feels tentative.
Electric guitars only get touched gently, even when they’re being touched in a hurry, like over the motorik putter of “Ful Stop,” or the spartan click-clack of “Identikit.” The synth textures sound humble, even pedestrian.
And as ever, Thom Yorke’s mewl remains the band’s sonic constant. But when he sings about “a lowflying panic attack” over the antsy pizzicato of “Burn the Witch,” he only cultivates the stupor he seems to be slagging.
Other ditties about our impending eco-doom (“The Numbers”) and the monotony of office life (“Daydreaming”), almost border on self-parody. Maybe Yorke is aware of this? During a particularly halfcooked jam called “Decks Dark,” he sings, “This dread still covers us/You gotta be kidding me.”