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Radiohead 'A Moon Shaped Pool' review

Could this be Radiohead's last ever record? Brad Lengden gives his verdict on the band's long-awaited album.

Ben Smith

Date published: 10th May 2016

Image: Radiohead 

It's hard to recall anyone that's generated more anticipation in the last five years than Radiohead with a seemingly endless wait for their return. Even more so when considering the fact that there was never actually any real evidence of new material being worked on until late last year. Nothing more than just hopeful rumours that 2016 was finally going to be the year the group re-emerged with a follow up to The King of Limbs. 

Imagine the pandemonium then when all trace of the band's online presence vanished and fans started receiving flyers in the post that simply read; “Sing the song of sixpence that goes, burn the witch, we know where you live”. Burn the witch, being, a phrase that appeared on their 2003 record, Hail to the Thief and the title of a track that Thom had apparently finished the lyrics for way back in 2005. Talk about biding your time.

Queue a dawn call of a tweeting bird appearing in the early hours of a Tuesday morning then later that afternoon a stop-motion video clip for 'Burn the Witch' - visually referencing an unlikely combination of the sixties kids show 'Trumpton' and the 1973 film 'The Wickerman'.

A surprise announcement quickly followed that the new album 'A Moon Shaped Puddle' would be released the following Sunday. That was it, they were finally back.

Of course, one thing Radiohead have always done better than just about any band, is the ability to generate so many different interpretations of their tracks.

'Burn the Witch' is no different, sparking various debates. The main theory being that it is a political commentary on the surveillance era of life. The lyric “we know where you live” obviously lending itself to such an idea, one that seems a pretty reasonable suggestion given the paranoid nature of so many of their lyrics.

'Daydreaming' is where the record really finds its theme musically though. The otherworldly digital percussion mixes with mellow piano chords to create the familiar lullaby, yet like band's most recent work it feels on edge, creating an unsettling dystopian atmosphere to set the tone for pretty much the whole record.

This paranoid atmosphere is added to by the final moments of the track where Thom Yorke's distorted vocals bring it to a close. Again leaving you to question of what he's actually saying as the backing track dies to leave a genuinely eerie last thirty seconds.

There's actually only three songs on A Moon Shaped Pool that haven't existed in one form or another. 'Decks Dark', 'Glass Eyes' and 'Tinker Tailer Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Thief' are those that offer completely fresh material.

However it was never going to be an issue with only snippets of other tracks being heard live or in very limited offerings. It'll be a relief if anything for fans who've watched the band grow to finally hear the finished product of something that's been teased for so long.

'Identikit' is one of those that have been perfected, featuring a phenomenal input from the London Contemporary Orchestra, displaying the band's unparalleled compositional qualities.

Whereas 'Present Tense'' actually sounds relatively raw for a usually OCD perfected sounding outfit. Johnny Greenwood's guitar is left intentionally rough, so that the scratch of chord shifts across strings can be blatantly heard.

Probably the most fine tuned track on the record though is 'The Numbers'. Showing their orchestral skills at their finest. The combination of keys and strings makes for something so unbelievably measured and intricate; It's nothing short of a masterpiece in terms of structure, building at just the right moments to create easily one of the most epic couple of minutes on the album, as violins and Thom Yorke's unmistakable vocals generate an awe inspiring close.

It's almost a shame that it's not the finishing track on the album, as it seems very fitted to be so.

That being said, it's hard to knock ending the record on one of Radiohead's most iconic live tracks in 'True Love Waits'. A track they have been performing for over twenty years, widely being regarded as one of their stand out pieces of work.

Appropriate then that they have chosen such a stunning collection of work to include an even more stunning song. Yorke's vocals sounding sombre and fragile, but completely flawless all at the same time. 

Upon the first listen it's easy to yearn for the heavier guitar driven era of the group, but that quickly disappears. This is a culmination of a thirty year career of sheer brilliance. It calls upon just about every era since their formation way back in 1985 and does so in beautiful, typical Radiohead fashion.

Thom's obsession with the digital aspects and Greenwood's compositional excellence both taking a forefront. Rather than create something completely new, they've mastered all the aspects they started and may not have felt completed. 

It's clear how much thought has gone into the whole comeback. The absent five years, the online disappearance, the strange flyers. The band have mastered the art of mystery and used it all to their advantage. To generate as much of a stir as they have with this past couple of months is a feat in itself and optimises them perfectly.

If they were to bow out on this record, doing so on 'True Love Waits' would be a more than fitting way to do so. Causing the nostalgia of undoubtedly one of the most important bands of the last three decades to flood through, unashamedly triggering a whole host of emotions.

Hopefully though, that will not be the case. Even if it's another five long years, it's proved to be worth the wait. 

Like this? Read James Blake 'The Colour In Anything' review