Pick of the Geek – Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool

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So who’s fully digested the new Radiohead album? Trick question: Radiohead haven’t been in the business of making immediately digestible albums since 1993 or thereabouts. But even if this review is doomed never to dive to the bottom of A Moon Shaped Pool, there’s still plenty that immediately catches the ear on the band’s ninth album. The sound is airy, heavily orchestrated, much less insular and paranoid than 2011’s The King of Limbs. The electronic elements on songs like True Love Waits and Glass Eyes are pretty and chiming rather than dense and cluttered. There’s a strong folk influence, too, particularly when Desert Island Disk builds itself around a springy finger-picked acoustic guitar melody reminiscent of Bert Jansch. Describing who’s playing what on a Radiohead album hasn’t been easy since the band started swapping instruments during the Kid A sessions, so perhaps it’s best to talk about the overall character of the album; if The King of Limbs seemed heavily influenced by Thom Yorke’s collaborations with Four Tet and Flying Lotus, this is Jonny Greenwood’s chance to show off what he’s learned over the last five years. The string section that dominates the album was recruited from musicians he collaborated with for the score to The Master, Present Tense restores an old live track he borrowed for the score to Norwegian Wood, and the splashing reverb and stabbing, percussive noises on Decks Dark and Identikit affirm his love of dub reggae.

There’s also The Numbers, the longest and best track on offer here, which seems to exist at the intersection of a lot of the band’s less-discussed musical passions; the swooping instrumentation of early ’70s Serge Gainsbourg, the loping, proto-grunge rhythm guitar of Neil Young, and the overall feel of Talk Talk circa Spirit of Eden – an appropriate title to mention in the context of a song that finds Thom Yorke staring down environmental collapse. Yorke’s lyrics are as cryptic and pessimistic as ever – Decks Dark begins with an alien invasion of Earth, and goes on to paraphrase the famous quote from Corinthians about looking through a glass darkly – but there is a new sense of energy, commitment and beauty that comes from the band being so eager to surprise. Just when traditionalist listeners will have lost hope of any electric guitars turning up, we get a stinging, taut solo to conclude Identikit, and Present Tense is powered by the year’s least expected samba beat. Which means we could get someone dancing to it on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing – and that still wouldn’t be the most surprising thing about this restless, beautiful, passionate album.

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