Nothing Left Inside?
A realisation of Radiohead's creative timer, as Michael Waller unveils Thom Yorke's bruises through their latest LP, 'A Moon Shaped Pool'
For the better part of their three-decade, genre-spanning existence, Radiohead has held the title of perennial best band out, mixing styles as challenging and obscure as jazz and IDM with the arena-angst sound that they patented on The Bends. To those not familiar with their art rock divinity, Radiohead’s formula might seem better suited to the digital underground than the top of the charts, yet their paranoia-drenched despair resonates with our increasingly apathetic modern condition, earning praise from critics and fans alike with each subsequent release. Their latest LP, A Moon Shaped Pool, continues this trend of commercial and artistic success; however, as lead singer Thom Yorke revealed in a recent interview with Q Magazine, it almost never came to be.
After the middling success of his solo and supergroup efforts, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and Amok, as well as the lukewarm reception of Radiohead’s penultimate The King of Limbs, all three of which took a more electronic, rhythm-based route than past releases, Yorke’s doubts come into clarity. Since the early 90’s where Radiohead has ventured their acolytes have followed, but TKoL seemed to signal an interruption in the pattern, with fans and critics pronouncing a collective “eh” before the band returned to hiatus. For this and other reasons, including Yorke’s recent separation from his partner of 23 years, AMSP coalesces as Radiohead’s most self-reflective record to date, examining the worth of their three decades as a band and its influence on their lives as individuals.
The tracks included on this album reflect this meditation, as most songs, with the exception of “Daydreaming,” “Decks Dark,” and “Tinker Tailor,” have been performed live in some iteration and archived by internet fanboys for all to enjoy. Although this recalls the ten year development of “Nude” from its inception in 1997 to its inclusion on In Rainbows, these songs represent different eras in Radiohead’s career, from the premier of “Present Tense” in 2008 to the first performance of “True Love Waits” in 1995.
In this sense “Identikit,” hailing from 2012, is the album’s title track. Opening with the cooing countermelody of “A Moon Shaped Pool,” the album’s 7th track serves as its sonic and thematic center, featuring a complex rhythm that anchors Yorke’s mournful warble while providing a platform for orchestral expansion with soaring synths and a frenetic Jonny Greenwood solo that ends on a note of panic before segueing into the calming aquatic intro of “The Numbers.” Lyrics that center on solipsism, lost love, and identity theft by imagination inform both the song itself and the album as whole, as here Yorke examines “pieces of a rag doll mankind,” while on “Decks Dark” he considers our existence as “rag doll cloth people,” juxtaposing inner and outer, questioning identity and worth.
On album-closer, “True Love Waits” this concern seems most apparent, as the structure and lyrics remain unchanged from the original, but a cold and cave-like atmosphere converts what was once a love song into heartsickness. With Yorke pleading to an empty room, “dont leave,” the song seems to pick up where the video to “Daydreaming” leaves off. After myriad doors and sequences meant to recall earlier Radiohead videos, Yorke secludes himself, muttering (reversed), “half of my life, half of my love,” as he reviews a life divided between his art and his former partner.
Michael Waller lives in New York and in fear of the Singularity. In his writing he explores television, trash, and America. He studies English and Creative Writing at NYU, where he has nurtured a strong disdain for Sinatra since matriculation.