Overview: Guys, Radiohead released a new album today.
And it’s incredible.
Offering up their first album in five years, Radiohead returns to the scene with a melancholy (well, no shit), ambient technical masterpiece that solidifies their reign as the greatest band of the new millennium. And it isn’t just because of the music contained on A Moon Shaped Pool, though in itself that’s transcendent enough. It’s the way this band has endured over time and still found the ability to put something truly magical together each and every time they release something.
Sure, they’ve had their ups and the higher-ups (I refuse to say they’ve had any downs). 2011’s The King of Limbs wasn’t as well received as I believe A Moon Shaped Pool will be once enough pretentious bastards like me get a chance to give it a few listens and review it. It’s a return to form and an escape from form at the same time. It’s probably an album you can sort of imagine the sound of before you give it a listen, but that doesn’t mean it lacks surprises along the way.
And by surprises I mean those moments when Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and company take a song that’s going one direction and shift on a dime into an unexpected tune that ends up being more beautiful than you imagined. Over eleven songs on A Moon Shaped Pool, I never found a song that felt out of place, forced or redundant. As a total package, it’s a sweeping, epic affair that will please both diehard fans and also offers a great new album for newer fans to dive in and get to know them.
A handful of songs from this effort (Ful Stop, Identikit, Present Tense, True Love Waits) have been performed by the band (or Yorke solo) at select live shows dating back to 2009. Having never seen the band live, I only know this having looked at setlists from previous shows. So I can’t speak to if they’re “better” on A Moon Shaped Pool. What I can say is that they’re all great Radiohead songs…with ‘True Love Waits’ possibly being one of the most epic closers I can remember hearing over the last decade.
Greenwood’s work on soundtracks for the recent films of Paul Thomas Anderson not only manifests itself in the PTA-directed video for “Daydreaming”, but on the arrangement of the album as a whole. It’s cinematic. Over it’s runtime, it manages to take you across the emotional spectrum but doesn’t leave any obvious traces of how exactly it accomplishes that.
It doesn’t just throw a bunch of radio-friendly singles at you (does anyone really even need to be radio-friendly anymore with the way people consume music?) It doesn’t frontload the album with about five good songs and then peter out into unlistenable dreck for the remainder. It stays strong while also knowing when to hit the surprise button to throw off your expectations just enough that you’re constantly wowed.
I’d say through three listens thus far, my six favorite songs from this new album are (in no particular order): Burn the Witch, Daydreaming, True Love Waits, Glass Eyes, Ful Stop, The Numbers. But to be honest, the entire album is eleven tracks worth of Radiohead goodness.
After nine albums I think it’s finally appropriate to give this band their rightful place alongside the legends they’ve long been compared to. Bands like Pink Floyd, The Beatles…you know…literally two of the biggest bands you could be compared to. Radiohead is different from them but they belong next to them and A Moon Shaped Pool makes it official. They’re gods.
What Radiohead has done with A Moon Shaped Pool is to release the most expected, unexpected gem of the year. Surely, other artists will adorn your TV sets being given golden statues to commemorate…something…but Radiohead’s achievement with this album is being as singularly relevant now as they were in their “prime” of the late 90s and early 2000s without ever having to compromise themselves artistically. They aren’t a band that’s cranked out an album a year for a decade and have nothing left to say. They’re spread their output out over more than two decades and they’ve mastered the art of the stealth drop. I loved their In Rainbows “pay what you want” model. If I recall, I dropped $5 on it because I was in college at the time and to me that’s what new albums should actually cost if you’re just downloading them. All these things keep them different, keep them relevant. They don’t just tell you six months out “Hey, our new album will be out on this day” and then do a bunch of forced performance gigs schilling it.
For this album, they put out a couple videos, did a little viral marketing and then poof…new album will be out this Sunday. And then when it does come out, it’s great. I’ll say at worst, A Moon Shaped Pool is a top four album by the greatest band of this era which is enough to say you should go out and support it by buying it legally. And at best, it belongs alongside Kid A and OK Computer as a classic Radiohead album. We need to reward this type of effort and make sure we get more Radiohead in the future. Given they’re still this great in 2016, I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Rating: 9.5/10 (Remarkable)