by Brian Kearney
Radiohead album releases are always an enigma in themselves. In the past they have allowed fans to pay whatever price they like, have created strange companies before release dates, and with their ninth release, A Moon Shaped Pool, they took a retroactive approach by erasing their internet presence and resorting to the mail. After removing themselves from social media and dissolving their website into a blank, white page they mailed strange letters to fans in the UK, saying "Burn the witch, we know where you live."
Yet even the biggest band in the world is not bigger than the Internet. When videos for Burn the Witch and Daydreaming were released, the Internet was buzzing with feeds and links leading to these wonderful works despite the bands efforts of Internet anonymity. Fans of the band know that any video they make is an extension or addition to the feel of the album. They tend to mimic the anxiety and tension of the songs while delivering a visual component or representation through a specific character that allow new insight into the bands psyche, that or they're just messing with us.
A Moon Shaped Pool feels like the most complete album Radiohead has done since Kid A. Each song starts off simple and progresses into lush, orchestral soundscapes that manage to soothe or twitch depending on where they decide to take you. Johnny Greenwood's composer chops are at full effect on this album, as they enlisted the London Contemporary Orchestra and Choir to help provide the necessary flourishes and string accompaniment that really take this album to stratospheric levels. One can only hope that they will be touring with the orchestra!
A bass player friend of mine once said, "Radiohead is one of the funkiest bands there is," (see the end of Optimistic on Kid A for a prime example of this). There are several moments in this album where drummer Phil Selway and bassist Colin Greenwood get into the pocket and really do find the funk. There is even a guitar solo at the end of Identikit (!), coming from a musician (Johnny Greenwood) that has transcended traditional guitar concepts a long time ago.
Which brings us to Thom Yorke, who is as good, crisp, and paranoid as ever. Having left his partner of 23 years, it is interesting to find a studio version of True Love Waits to close the album out, with Yorke repeatedly chanting "don't leave" until a piano note fades to nothing. It is a striking finish that leaves the listener sad, yet comfortable and at peace because the album is so beautiful and complete from start to finish. It is both simple and complex, disarming and inviting, large and small. It is Radiohead, and they know where you live.