Album of the Month: Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Back in the torrid summer of June 2003, a little known website materialized out of nowhere to be instantly read by nobody. There was a handful of wine-themed websites in existence, however this one hosted a bizarre "Album of the Month" section. It must have come as a novelty to the few that chanced upon it. It was intended to assuage my unfulfilled ambitions as an NME scribe. It was my site. I could do whatever I want. So I selected an album and offered my two cents.

The first release bestowed with my coveted title happened to be my favorite band, Radiohead. "Hail To The Thief" is not regarded as their finest, languishing mid-table whenever the Oxford quintet's albums are ranked. Listening back to it recently, I think critics were being harsh. Whilst it does not stand up to The Bends or Kid A, it remains one of Radiohead's quirkiest releases and is full of hidden gems. (Incidentally the way each song has its own parenthesized subtitle was shamelessly ripped off for my Pomerol tome.)

Thirteen years later and Radiohead have just released their ninth long-player, the evocatively titled "A Moon Shaped Pool", a title that sounds as if it was lifted from a C S Lewis novel. The album was preceded by two "singles" and both were wedded to wondrous videos. First came "Burn The Witch", up there with Radiohead's best. It suggested a return to form after the oblique and melody-eschewing King of Limbs in 2011. Thom Yorke's yearning vocals and impeccable falsetto, the astute embroidering of analogue sounds and best of all, the Hitchcockian pizzicato strings full of foreboding - they all foment a sense of melodrama, somewhat missing in the Radiohead of late. Moreover, its ingenious video mixed two bastions of 1970s British culture: children's stop-start animation program Trumpton and early-70s horror flick, The Wicker Man (the former confused the earnest writers of Pitchfork who over-analyzed the children's program to comical degree). Within hours it was followed by "Daydream", directed by no less than Paul Thomas Anderson, the song much sparser but no less affecting thanks to its plaintive piano figure that worms its way into your head. It is only after repeated listens that you notice the canvas of weird sounds.

Afterwards there follows one of the most mesmerizing albums your ears will hear in 2016 and certainly one of Radiohead's most beautiful and lyrically, most personal. There are the usual electronic sounds that have become Thom Yorke's canvas of choice, though there are more strings here, more organic instrumentation and crystalline production. The pulsing, spectral throb of "Ful Stop" could come from an early 1990s deep house compilation until it effortlessly segues into a more earnest acoustic melody à la Knives Out. The outstanding "Glass Eyes" has another eerie piano figure that sounds like somebody playing in an adjacent room, accompanied by some gorgeous strings to create one of their most affecting compositions to date. There is almost too much to describe here. It is an immersive suite of songs that demand several listens, an album that compels a decent hi-fi system (the album is not physically available until June.) I should mention the final song, "True Love Waits" a fan favorite for nigh two decades since it was written in 1994, performed live many times but apparently never perfected in the studio until now. Reconfigured for the piano with a couple of chord changes, it is utterly moving and elegiac.

Something picked up almost immediately by social media is that all but three of the songs are old Radiohead compositions, inferring that this might by their swansong. Are they tidying up loose ends by finally releasing live fan favorites? True Love Waits would be a perfect full stop. That was my immediate reaction although you can never tell with this band who have constantly surprised since the early 1990s. All members have been busy with successful side projects such as Yorke's "Atoms For Peace" project and Johnny Greenwood's film soundtracks. They haven't much left to prove. Yet music needs a band with the gravitas and legacy of Radiohead. Fact is, after so many years they remain as innovative as ever, the momentum is still there. I hope that my hunch is disproven.

With that said, all things come to an end and after 13 years, I have decided that this will be my final album of the month. There is a circle that begins and ends with the band I have adored like no other. Perhaps now is the time to take the needle off the record. That's not to say that at some point I will renege and start penning musical articles again. I reserve the right to revive "Album of the Month" at any chosen moment. Maybe it will be in a different format?

Who knows? I have always been amazed that in all corners of the world I meet people who tell me they avidly follow this column, discovered artists that they would have otherwise overlooked. That was the whole point. Fantastic music continues to be created: check out Beyoncé's epic "Lemonade" for starters or recent releases from James Blake or Anohni. I often tell people bemoaning today's music that the problem is more likely theirs. They have closed their ears to the new and subconsciously take comfort in the sentimental tracks of their youth. That has not happened to me, not yet.

So that leaves me to say thank you for reading and please keep listening.

Wine Recommendation...

You know, this was always a whimsy on my part. I mean what the hell has your musical choice got to do with the wine you drink? Sod all. Funny how others take is so seriously. I feel partly to blame. It was just a little joke that went on for a few years...or was it?

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