After a month when big, meaningful albums have come thick and fast – ‘Lemonade’, ‘Views’, Anohni, James Blake – it doesn’t feel like there’s quite so much riding on Radiohead’s ninth album. That will suit them. Thom Yorke and co remain reluctant saviours of rock, and ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ doesn’t so much grab you by the throat as creep into your house in the night and paint your walls an enigmatic shade of blue.
Lead single ‘Burn The Witch’ is a bit of a red herring, a classic slice of Radiohead scaremongering with cellists wielding their bows like pitchforks. Mostly, the glistening strings and spectral choirs serve to bring a luxuriant vagueness to these proceedings. More inviting than 2011’s ‘The King Of Limbs’ but unlikely to trouble the compilers of ‘Drivetime Hits 17’, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is strange, shimmering and uncertain.
As in the ‘Daydreaming’ video, Thom Yorke wanders through the album in a state of bemused anxiety. “I feel this love runs cold” he shivers at the end of the stunning ‘Glass Eyes’. “Broken hearts make it rain” runs ‘Identikit’s desolate chorus. Yorke doesn’t do heart-on-sleeve, but it’s hard not to presume he’s singing about his recent separation from his partner of 23 years.
On the other hand, there’s ‘The Numbers’: “People have the power,” he sings defiantly, “we’ll take back what is ours”. Having previously pooh-poohed the idea of writing a climate change protest song because “it would be shit”, he appears to have written a distinctly not-shit climate change protest song, complete with funky Colin Greenwood bassline. Along with the drums kicking in on taut motorik rocker ‘Ful Stop’, it’s one of the few moments on ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ you could plausibly describe as rousing.
Radiohead save their best trick ‘til last. ‘True Love Waits’ is a song many fans will feel strongly about, having been a live favourite since the mid-90s. Finally committing it to tape, they casually remove a couple of key structural chords before setting it adrift on a sea of rippling pianos. It’s a fitting end to an album of eerie, elusive beauty.