How heavy is the weight of expectation? How heavy is the head that wears the crown? When it comes to tackling the dissection and greater contemplation of a musical group on the scale of Radiohead, it’s best to start with the bigger questions and then hone in on specifics.
The aforementioned two questions certainly stand as key talking points given the context of A Moon Shaped Pool – which, it has to be stressed, is an album that didn’t even exist in the collective conscience as recently as last week. There was some of the usual Radiohead-esque faffing about – the deletion of the website, the Instagram teasers etc. – but even then, Pool stands as one of their most painless releases to date.
It certainly leads one to question as to whether this is their equivalent of simply ripping off the proverbial bandaid; leaving people to experience the album in the moment as opposed to labouring over expectations – both heightened and lowered – across the course of months.
The truth is that it’s hard to say at this point in time. There is still so much to learn about Pool, the band’s ninth LP and first in five years. It is an album still blossoming in the ears and hearts of listeners across the globe as we speak; such is the reach and resonance of the band. It is not an album of overt avant-garde tones or experimental free-wheeling – which, oddly enough, can unpacked as a statement in and unto itself.
It’s an album with a strong use of strings – perhaps moreso than any of their other albums – which range from stinging tension (Burn the Witch) to swelling flourishes (Glass Eyes), each complementing the movements through each song they are implemented within. It’s one of the more strikingly-intimate Radiohead releases, both from a lyrical sense and from a structural standpoint.
Second single Daydreaming feels close enough to touch, its sparse piano guiding Thom Yorke’s wry, defeated vocal delivery; while closer True Love Waits (a song that has been in the Radiohead archive for well over a decade) is direct and stirring, needing little more to get its point across than its plucked guitars.
By making an album that’s more a whisper than a shout, Radiohead are effectively drawing in their listeners as close as possible. By utilising songs that have floated around for years (Identikit and Present Tense among them), the band are taking in a full-scale view of their past, present and future.
How will we remember A Moon Shaped Pool? The truth remains that it’s hard to say at this point in time. It might just be best to float on a little longer.
‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is available now via iTunes and Apple Music.