Radiohead’s ninth LP, A Moon Shaped Pool, is more immediate than one has come to expect from the Oxford-based band. Lead single and album opener ‘Burn The Witch’ sees sharp, urgent strings operating alongside synths, as Thom Yorke’s falsetto threatens, “we know where you live”; the sheer drive of the song, as well as its relatively conventional structure, seems foreign given their penchant for left-field experimentation. ‘Decks Dark’ and ‘Identikit’ are similarly accessible. The latter, a standout, even features a Jonny Greenwood guitar solo and a powerful, emotional refrain: “broken hearts make it rain”. Incidentally, Greenwood’s work scoring two films for Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master and Inherent Vice) has evidently had a bearing here, with lush orchestration prevalent throughout.
Yorke’s separation last year from his partner of 23 years seems to dominate proceedings here. When the reversed and slowed vocals in the outro to ‘Daydreaming’ are restored to normal, Yorke is in fact repeatedly singing: “half of my life, half of my love”. Given that he was aged 46 at the time of the split, his 23-year relationship would indeed amount to half of his life. Elsewhere, ‘Decks Dark’, ‘Identikit, ‘Present Tense’ and ‘True Love Waits’ each also deal (relatively) explicitly with broken love. However, much of the album expresses more general anxieties about the state of our world, but through the prism of personal heartbreak. ‘The Numbers’ (“we are of the earth”; “we call upon the people”; “we’ll take back what is ours”) and ‘Daydreaming’ (“the damage is done”; “this goes / beyond me / beyond you”) both seem concerned with climate change, which Yorke has spoken out on. ‘Burn The Witch’, meanwhile, is a critique of anti-immigration politicians and the refugee crisis, at least according to the animator behind its stop-motion music video.
Only three of the 11 songs included here are truly brand new, with numerous live favourites at long last recorded. Closer ‘True Love Waits’ has been around in various incarnations since 1995, while ‘Burn The Witch’ was first birthed during sessions for Kid A in 1999. Every band has an expiry date, and with each member nearing their fifties, this could be Radiohead’s; if it does prove to be the case, there could be few better ways to bow out.