First Listen: Radiohead’s New Album, A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Finally. After all the false starts and rumours, Radiohead’s ninth album–called, as we know now, A Moon Shaped Pool–appeared digitally today (Sunday, May 8; happy Mother’s Day). The physical release will come via XL Recordings June 17.

While it’s being carried on iTunes, Apple Music, Tidal. Google Play Music, it’s notably absent from Spotify. Not a big surprise, given that Thom Yorke once called the service “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” I’m not entirely sure what he meant, but I don’t think he’s a fan. (Spotify says “We’ll get to it when we can.”)

Radiohead once again has proven that only no other band sounds like Radiohead. And unlike so many other albums these days, this one could end up being intensely satisfying listening when considered as a whole record and not individual songs. For the first time in a long time, I can see myself putting on an album and just letting it run all the way through.

Here’s the tracklisting with some comments on my first listen to the record.

Prologue: Note that there are really just three completely brand new songs on the album. The rest have been around or works-in-progress for years. There’s not a lot of verse-chorus-verse structures to be found here, but Radiohead long since tired of such conventions. And in a very Radiohead move, note that the tracklistings feature songs in alphabetical order.

1.Burn the Witch (3:41): The first single, which appeared suddenly last Monday. Dissonant strings over which Thom floats a melody that is alternately in a major and minor key. Classic Radiohead, really. Like several songs on the album, it seems to have been in the works for years.

2.Daydreaming (6:24): The second single, which was released shortly after “Burn the Witch.” Atmospheric piano and synth track devoid of all percussion. Plenty of cinematic touches, thanks to the band’s resident movie score composer, Jonny Greenwood. Ends with what sounds like stylised snoring.

3.Decks Dark (4:41): A tinkling piano intro leads into a languorous Thom vocal with plenty of choral effects in the background. More dissonance crops up, moving the song from friendly to spooky and even menacing over the course of just a few bars. This is one of the three totally brand new songs.

4.Desert Island Disk (3:45): Segues smoothly from the last chord of “Decks Dark” into a cool, quiet acoustic guitar riff that’s neither folky nor bluesy–Alice in Chains-like, maybe? Keyboard flourishes punctuate the arrangement until some delicate cymbal playing appears after about two minutes. If Kurt Cobain were still around, he could easily turn this into a grunge grinder. An early favourite for me.

5.Ful Stop (6:07): Yes, that’s how you spell it. Plodding synth lines and programmed drums are joined by keyboard lines that threaten to resolve into a wordless Yorke vocal before he actually starts to since about two minutes. The action really starts at about the 3:10 mark when the guitars come in. The overall effect of the arrangement is both beautiful and unsettling.

6.Glass Eyes (2:53): The shortest song on the album. Bubbling piano/keys lead into strings before Thom crops up talking about a train trip. More soundtrack-style music. The second of the all-new songs.

7.Identikit (4:27): Known to Radiohead fans for years–it seems to have made its debut during a Miami concert in February 2012–AMSP provides its this percussion-based track first complete studio version.

8.The Numbers (5:46): A quiet cacophony of recorders (the flute-like things) dissolve into in piano flourishes which in turn give away to a simple piano-and-acoustic guitar riff. More than a few unexpected chord changes. Orchestral parts–VERY George Martin-ish (or maybe Elton John at the turn of the 70s)–surprise and delight about three-and-a-half minutes in. Reminds me a little of Supertramp from the 70s? Another first-listen favourite.

9.Present Tense (5:07): Yet another quiet number with subtle percussion backstopping some acoustic guitar arpeggios and layers of oooooo-ing vocals. The song drifts through several movements without much of a definable chorus, but that seems to be okay

10.Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief (5:04): Yes, this almost the name of the 1974 John Le Carre novel–one of the best spy novels ever–but its source material is more likely an English nursery rhyme that dates back to the late 1600s. White noise percussion sounds lead into an unhurried keyboard line and a floaty lyric from Thom. The third and final all-new song.

11.True Love Waits (4:43): Another song that’s been around for years–a live version is on their 2001 concert album, I Might Be Wrong and they’ve been playing it live in one form or another since the mid-9os (that’s The Bends era)–but this is the first time they’ve committed this live favourite to a proper studio recording.

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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