This morning I was reminded of a comment I read a few weeks ago, written by a black woman on the morning after the release of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, who, when walking past other black women wearing headphones, would mouth the word ‘lemonade’ at them and feel a meaningful sense of connection when they replied with the same.
During my commute to work, on the day after the release of Radiohead’s new album A Moon Shaped Pool, I found myself eyeing up other pale, bearded men wearing headphones, and I imagined mouthing the words ‘moon shaped pool’ at them and receiving a knowing smile of approval.
Only these men wouldn’t have seen me because they were far too absorbed in themselves to care much about what was going on around them. Preferring instead to stare passively at their own distorted reflection in the Underground train window, or listlessly flicking through the Metro, or pretending to be asleep so they wouldn’t have to give up their seat to someone who needs it more than them.
I then questioned why I would even want to try and make a meaningful connection with these people; the emotionally jaundiced who have an unrealistic sense of entitlement. I realised they may not even be listening to Radiohead, they could just as well be listening to a Chris Moyles podcast, but deep down I knew… we can tell one of our own. I then fired up Tidal and listened to ‘Sorry’ for 50th time instead.
Radiohead have depressed me. You could argue that making a Radiohead fan depressed is not only like shooting fish in a barrel, but also dropping a cannonball into the same barrel from a few inches above. But it’s not the usual type of ‘Radiohead depression’. A good career-spanning Radiohead playlist would start with ‘Street Spirit’ and end with you stood on a shoreline putting rocks in your trouser pockets, but the journey there is full of genuinely earnest wallowing that’s worth enduring for the few euphoric highs. A Moon Shaped Pool is different. It’s the sound of giving up. It’s the sound of final listless gasp. It’s the sound of dead air.
And that’s sort of the point.
‘Daydreaming’ has a simple (and undeniably beautiful) repeating piano phrase with scatterings of strings and synths fracturing the melody, but it’s Thom Yorke’s lyrics that ram home the pointlessness of everything: “Dreamers / They never learn / Beyond the point / Of no return / And it’s too late / The damage is done.” Yeah he’s got a point, we may all be fucked, but it’s this moroseness that infects the whole record and makes you wonder why you’d fill what little time you have left with anything on here: ‘Desert Island Disk’ with its ‘chill-out compilation from the late-90s’ acoustic guitar, ‘Decks Dark’ with its gloomy atmospherics and apocalyptic lyrics that sadly lack the bite of genuine protest. And ‘Glass Eyes’ bare existence beyond some fairly bracing strings provided by the London Contemporary Orchestra. (It should be noted, the major positive on A Moon Shaped Pool is Johnny Greenwood’s orchestration.)
But as I said, the whole thing is meant to sound intangible and transient. Everything just ebbs and flows whether you pay attention to it or not, and you’re probably not. Why would you when you have oblivion to think long and hard about.
Surprise first single ‘Burn the Witch‘ stands out massively as the only track with a little grit behind it, but suffers from lyrics that sound like a Radiohead parody (“this is a low-flying panic attack”). ‘Ful Stop’ is a nice change of pace, purely because it sounds like an In Rainbows off-cut, but it soon disappears up its own bumhole. ‘Identikit’ is a little funkier than the rest of the album, but again it’s nothing you haven’t heard from Radiohead before. And hey, speaking of ‘nothing you haven’t heard before’, one of the best tracks on A Moon Shaped Pool is the first actual studio recording of the 22 year-old ‘True Love Waits’, which is now buoyed by a delicate piano instead of an acoustic guitar. It’s nearly as old as the band itself, and although you could argue it’s a treat for long-time fans, you could also argue it speaks to Radiohead’s current lack of spark.
A Moon Shaped Pool is the sound of a band reflecting on their time together and wondering if they can be bothered to carry on (and not just at a band level). It’s all meant to sound plaintive and self-reflexive, but really it just comes across as dreary nihilism.