A Moon Shaped Pool
It was 1992 when we turned up at ULU, one of London's smallest gig venues tucked behind Tottenham Court Road, to catch a band. Unusually it wasn't the main act on stage, or even its support we turned up to see; it was a band playing for free in the venue's tiny bar area.
We were there for one reason, because of a song called 'Creep'. OK two reasons, as it was a free gig after all. So set up in the middle of the bar area, with minimum fuss, were a band called Radiohead, who performed a set that was basically their debut album Pablo Honey.
Fast forward to present day, and the band release their ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool. They've come a hell of a long way from
their Pablo Honey days, with their sound developing and evolving with every album release. They must be doing something right as they've become one of the biggest bands on the planet.
Although it's been five years since they released Hail to the Thief, this album doesn't feel quite as evolved as it could have been.
The first track on the album, ‘Burn the Witch’, has all the classic elements of a Radiohead song; it has a menacing orchestral bed, an electro beat that ticks over nicely, and Thom’s trademark warblings. It’s the perfect way to kick off an album and sets out their musical stall in just the right fashion.
A quieter vibe comes in the shape of ‘Daydreaming’; predominately piano led, Thom delicately drapes his vocals over the top of this ethereal track. There is one alarming aspect though, which comes by way of some snoring; whether it’s provided by anyone in the band is anyones guess, but thankfully its inclusion doesn’t taint what is a pleasant dreamy song.
‘Decks Dark’ continues the hushed and gentle tones, with the inclusion of angelic voices that occasionally radiate from above. As the track continues, it’s a surprise to hear a guitar feature on the track, as they so rarely do on on their material these days.
Just like buses, when they do turn up, they turn up in numbers; this time an accoustic guitar features on ‘Desert Island Disk’. It has a happy dippy trippy feel, as if it has spent far too much time in a sweat lodge in the middle of nowhere, in its own company. Pleasant enough however.
‘Ful Stop’ has a pulsing intro that feels like it’s never likely to end. It’s nearly 2 minutes in before Thom hits us with his vocals, but it doesn’t stop the intro from just powering on like a runaway train. It mutates a tad halfway through, when an even catchier beat bullies its way into the proceedings. Toes will tap, for sure.
The band whip out the orchestra again for ‘Glass Eyes’. It’s a short but sweet track, with Thom drifting casually over the top of
all things stringy and plinky plonky. Like a light breeze on a summer’s day, it’s gone before you know it.
The tempo gets turned up considerably for ‘Identikit’, before going up notch again about half way through. It’s one of the safer tracks on the album, only saved by some nifty guitar work.
After a flamboyant intro ‘The Numbers’ settles down nicely. It weaves musically, ducking and diving orchestrally, feeling like a song from a cool seventies soundtrack.
‘Present Tense’ is another one of those tracks that does little to stand out, but just kind of sits nicely amongst the many other fairly average offerings here. It does its thing well, but won’t blow your socks off.
And the winner of longest track name on the album goes to... ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Begger Man Thief’. It’s slightly darker in tone, which is not only not a bad thing, but also kind of expected from the band. It’s helped again by a wall of strings orchestrated to the ninths, which help lift it to a slightly higher musical plane.
A firm fan favourite that's been hanging around live for a while is ‘True Love Waits’ that finally finds a home here. It’s a heartfelt song about the break up of Thom’s long term relationship. It’s probably the most touching of tracks on the album that is slightly hindered by some intrusive, over the top production, which is a real shame.
There's no denying the band's inventive creativity when it comes to producing music, and it's no wonder they have such a huge fan base. What's more impressive is that they still manage to attract super-band status in these dire musical times, where they rub shoulders with the likes of the insipid Coldplay and their likes.
It's disappointing then that A Moon Shaped Pool is really rather ordinary. As an album experience it works well enough; its beginning, middle and end manage to wash over you inoffensively, but there aren't any real stand out moments that you would normally expect.
Overall, it's a pretty unremarkable release, which is the last thing you would expect from Thom Yorke and the rest of the lads. It lacks any kind of intensity, with everything delivered on a nice, even keel. It doesn't soar to dizzying heights, instead choosing to play it safe on terra firma.
That's not to say it's a bad album, as you could pass the time listening to far worse, it's just that it feels below par by their usual high standards. And add to the fact they've had five years to work on it, there was expectation for sure that further greatness would be forthcoming. We were wrong.
Some might say that an average Radiohead album is better than no Radiohead album at all, and to a certain extent, you can't argue with that. It's just that you don't expect a band like Radiohead to do average. maybe it's a grower, maybe it needs thirty odd plays before it clicks and actually it's a classic Radiohead album after all. We doubt that's the case though.