Tuesday 24 January 2017

First review of Radiohead's new album 'A Moon Shaped Pool'

Published 08/05/2016 | 20:58

Surprise surprise: Radiohead released their new single and video 'Burn the Witch' this week after deleting all trace of the band on social media.
Surprise surprise: Radiohead released their new single and video 'Burn the Witch' this week after deleting all trace of the band on social media.

Radiohead have spent their careers not caring what anyone thinks so it would be an overstatement to describe the Oxfordshire five-piece as a band in crisis following the tepid reception afforded 2011's The King of Limbs album.

4*

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Nonetheless, it is tempting to conclude that they have taken stock after that record's bleary mash-up of dubstep, rock and ambient piano left even hardcore fans nonplussed. Released just after 7pm Sunday A Moon Shaped Pool, their much- awaited ninth long player, feels like a conscious exercise in course correction, with concessions to old-fashioned songwriting detectible amid the traditional Radiohead haze of free-floating electronica and fragmented angst.

The tone is set by Burn The Witch, the surprise single with which the group trailered the project. The track unspools in a fever dream of sad yodelling by singer Thom Yorke and yammering strings from guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Musically and tonally, it is A Moon Shaped Pool in microcosm. Throughout, the overwhelming mood is a pent-up weariness, with Yorke surveying the world and despairing (those who have read Burn The Witch as commentary on the demonising of migrants will no doubt see further political subtext in the frontman's endless pivoting from pathos to paranoia).

Occasionally, it is true, the tempo moves up or down a gear. Ful Stop erupts into an electro-percussive frenzy; Identikit's urgent groove serve as backdrop to one of those swoonful choruses Radiohead have been able to dash out in their sleep since The Bends  (hopefully our ears deceive us and Yorke isn't actually singing "move your arse/make it rain").

There are longueurs, too, and A Moon Shaped Pool carries on the tradition of Radiohead albums that, two thirds the way in, appear to lose interest in being a Radiohead album. Here the culprits are The Numbers, a listless, piano-fuelled whinge that spends five and a half minutes circling the drain, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Begger Man Thief, which is as vexing and pretentious as the mouthful title would suggest.

Still, all is redeemed as the death as the group, again working with producer Nigel Godrich, debut an overhauled version of long-standing live favourite True Love Waits. The song tilts and shudders, threatening constantly to collapse under the weight of its own ennui. It's delicate and gossamer gauzy, a wispy fade out to a deft, measured record sure to find favour with Radiohead fanboys and passings admirers alike.

Rating: 4/5

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