Few bands are so uncompromising and unpredictable in music, especially one as sonically defiant as Radiohead. The results only seem to get better as time goes on. It’s impossible to heap more praise on them that hasn’t been heaped, but their legacy as one of the last and greatest rock bands ever, is secure. They have detractors, but are one of music’s most consistent and inventive entities, often rejecting rock’s familiarities and archetypes and going for something much more less safe, more esoteric, and out there, as David Bowie’s Low, during his drug-fueled experimental period in Berlin. This, of course, is not the only influence but one of many that Radiohead can fuse and incorporate into their music without sounding like mere imitations. Then they themselves become influential, and so it goes. There seem to be few things a band like Radiohead could want to achieve at this point. Having long past moved being “that weird band who did Creep.” Few bands claim to be as varied, innovative, and just good. After such a long, feverish successful run of albums, what now? They pull their social media accounts, website and entire online presence a week before they give us A Moon Shaped Pool.
There is certainly beauty to be found in the album, songs emanate through space, the sounds foreign, yet not too distant to alienate, and odd enough to entrance. They can create atmosphere like few do. It’s hard to listen to this album without the crushing weight of expectation. Radiohead have done so well in the past, how could this not be a disappointment? Unless they completely redefine music with every new album, they’re not topping themselves anymore. So with that in mind, Radiohead’s new album goes kind of mellow. The music is…slower. Things are not immediately catchy and hypnotic as they may have been in the past. There are many familiar elements, Nigel Godrich’s outstanding production, Thom Yorke’s signature wail, lush orchestrations, and intricate compositions. All of these add up to a Radiohead album that’s strong, just not as strong as before. It’s not the towering behemoth we might expect but it’s a solid album nonetheless. Minds may not be melted, but the songwriting is still good, the sounds are amazing, and the emotion is there. Radiohead on a bad day is still better than most bands on their best days.
Compared to 2011’s disappointing The King of Limbs, A Moon Shaped Pool, is a little more frantic, tense but not flailing. It sounds determined if not boring. It’s certainly not their best; it doesn’t reach the ecstatic highs of In Rainbows or that album’s infectiousness. Songs take their time to form and the listener is invited along for the discovery of something more than what one might think. Reverb is heavy throughout, synthesizers emote and glisten, melodies swell. Detractors may not be converted with this album, if anything, they’ll find less to like about the group. Songs like “Daydreaming” sound like the future dystopia of today, and invoke a feeling of discomfort and beauty. There’s another version of live staple “True Love Waits,” slowed down and spaced-out. While haunting, it’s just not as affecting as the live versions.
It’s Radiohead, but it’s just not as compelling as other albums from them. Yorke’s lyrics are still painfully introspective and touching, conveying a distance and sadness with his warble and words. There is still wonder to be found. We’ve come to expect something incredible when what we get might be really great from another band; it’s just mildly impressive in the context of their greater work. Although, the album can be hard to listen to as a whole, as it seems to drone on at times, songs go on without too much resolution, seeming to produce landscapes rather than stitched-out narratives, but maybe there’s more than meets the eye than can be seen in a few days time. This album is probably one to grow on you, but as usual with Radiohead, it requires patience. It’s a strong addition to their works in any case. We’re lucky to have a band like Radiohead in the first place. There’s a lot to discover here, as a new listener or longtime fan, challenging, but worth it. Overall, it’s pretty soft, but pretty good. A Moon Shaped Pool is a strong addition to the catalogue of many great albums released by one of music’s most innovative and enduring acts. Here’s to hoping Radiohead have it in them to produce more music that can surprise and reach people.