May 8, 2016


Radiohead's 'A Moon Shaped Pool': Instant Track-by-Track Analysis

Radiohead’s first album in five years has arrived in full, after months of hints and a week of musical teasers. And we dutifully listened to A Moon Shaped Pool a few times as soon as it came out, and wrote down our instant reactions to each of the 11 songs, some of them years-old, some of them brand new.

A Moon Shaped Pool is here, and so is our instant track-by-track breakdown. Consider this a premature evaluation of Radiohead’s latest opus, and an analysis of what listeners should keep an eye on:

1. Burn the Witch
An enthralling way to kick off Radiohead’s next era, “Burn the Witch” represents Radiohead’s most politically charged statement since 2003’s Hail To The Thief and features the same kind of brainwashed declarations as that album’s “Sit Down. Stand Up.” The lush strings are used here to tighten the grip on Yorke, as if his feathery falsetto is grasping at a happy ending that doesn’t exist.

2. Daydreaming
Heartbreakingly delicate and desperately bleak, “Daydreaming” pairs a gorgeous piano melody with a solemn realization: dreams often to not come true, and those who don’t realize that often do the most damage to their loved ones. Some have hypothesize that this song references Yorke’s recent separation from his wife; lines like “It’s too late / The damage is done” certainly seem to suggest the same.

3. Decks Dark
It’s hard to call “Decks Dark” an example of “vintage” Radiohead, but a first listen reveals elements of what fans have been hankering for since OK Computer: a finite chorus, a percussion-led rock structure and, oh yeah, some nifty guitar moments. Paired with some apocalyptic imagery and a spiraling piano line, “Decks Dark” establishes itself as a song that begs to be experienced live.

4. Desert Island Disk
The ear is drawn to the acoustic guitar licks buoying Yorke’s pleading voice on “Desert Island Disk,” but listen more closely for the rustling cymbals, pulsating bass and whirring pieces of production that push the song slowly forward. Yorke sings of “An open doorway / Across a stream / To another life”; we, happily, follow him there.

5. Ful Stop
Grand in scope and immediately thrilling, “Ful Stop” refracts the doomed-relationship dread of a song like “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” on In Rainbows and zooms in on the hopelessness of a romantic dissolution. “All the good times!” Yorke yelps over and over as the drums keep pounding, before sighing over a sinister guitar line, “Take me back again.”

6. Glass Eyes
The strings of “Burn the Witch” sound much plumper on “Glass Eyes,” which, following the wild-eyed bargaining of “Ful Stop,” feels like a sad acceptance of reality. Beautiful and unrelentingly sad, the song connects to anyone who has spent a moment trying to escape solitude, but not knowing where to turn.

7. Identikit
Finally: a studio version of “Identikit”! The fan favorite sounds just as head-turning on the A Moon Shaped Pool track list as it did live for years, with Yorke’s lyrics about dishonest yet powerful people taking a backseat to the spikes of guitar, six-armed drumming and sumptuous bass riffs.  

8. The Numbers
The patient interplay between the guitar and piano here underlines the lyrical theme of “The Numbers”: We can save this planet, and we must. The song is less of a warning than a move for inspiration, but lyrics like “The future is inside us / It’s not somewhere else” and “Your system is a lie / The river running dry” toe the line of urgency without coming off as too preachy.

9. Present Tense
There’s something dark lurking underneath Yorke’s words and the melodic shuffle supporting them, as “Present Tense” details a future reckoning outside of the narrator’s current positive outlook. The song is arguably the sleepiest offering on A Moon Shaped Pool, but the lyrics are piercing enough to warrant closer examination and replays.

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief
On what is the album’s most elliptical song, Yorke’s voice drifts in and out of focus as he sings about prayer, animals and quick answers to lifelong questions. The orchestra drops an elegant conclusion as the production crackles in the distance, and the listener is left dangling, searching for answers that the band won’t provide. There’s some satisfying in how enigmatic this song is.

11. True Love Waits
At long last, “True Love Waits” is on a Radiohead album… but why this particular Radiohead album, and why as its last track? Here, the song emphasizes the pleading that composes so much of A Moon Shaped Pool: the need for resolution where no resolution has yet formed. The power of the album is in the notion that life has imperfections worth dying to correct—a better existence just around the corner. On “True Love Waits,” that better tomorrow already occurred yesterday, and Yorke will do anything to get it back.