Album number 9 for Radiohead sees a welcome shift backwards and subtler deep shifts forwards too – yet it does have an air of finality to it.
Strings, production, orchestral shifts and a whole feeling despite it being somewhat made up partly of older songs finally committed to record. Whilst accessible it is an album that will twist away from you, stare you down and walk away. The moments that it does hang together, (which is most of it) are guarded yet also wounded. A vulnerable record that will walk with you yet not hold your hand. It’s that delicacy that Radiohead sound supreme in. Alien aural augmentation.
Burn The Witch is both soft and full of menace. Those gnarling effects cushioned with orchestral strings. If anything the track is a sore thumb on an album that resides largely in a more lonely place.
It’s the removed refusal of Daydreaming that really pulls the album into Radiohead circa 2016 . A lost place yet with that isolation and abandonment they sound so sure in. Vocals so fragile eased with chimes and production so good you almost fall into the song purely by listening. A return to the womb. A sound of loss and desperation so beautifully expressed yet still only clue pointing. The slowed down blurred vocal at the end oddly sounds like the intro to 1999 (Prince) played at 16rpm. A coincidence yet a timely one.
Decks Dark walks an easier rope. Mellow meandering that shifts in it final quarter to deliver hints of OK Computer albeit in tiny shards. Desert Island Disk parts the album somewhat like Elizabeth My Dear does on The Stone Roses debut album. A near folk interlude stretched out and serving somewhat to pick A Moon Shaped Pool off a wounded floor.
…and off that wounded floor it gets with Ful Stop. A track that melds both the awkward Radiohead and the sonically soaring Radiohead all too perfectly. Keys giving way to bass and vocals ready to launch, percussion ticking like a time bomb. Small key changes that deliver big shifts of attack and gut gut guttering guitar lashes. Epic with a bandage.
Dream states return with the softer Glass Eyes, again you notice how orchestral this all getting. The album gently twists away again with the sublime Identikit. The choral “broken hearts make it rain” gives way to a choir effect as the album pulls yet deeper with stabs of guitar nudging wounds wider and wider.
The Numbers is more straightforward and a comedown from the preceding track. This does not stop it have soaring orchestral moments. Radiohead reel back to Kid A now but the weight and strength of the album make it feel all somehow more reachable. You want to reach out to it – but you’re not sure what it is. Present Tense throws no surprises and ambles about in the vein of all before it whilst looking down at the floor. Likewise Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief leans to the orchestral whilst managing always to not sound like a soundtrack.
The inclusion of the older track, fan favourite and previously unreleased / (properly) recorded True Love Waits will get hardcore fans thinking this is maybe a goodbye. I think not. They have too much to offer and they know it. How many bands on album their 9th album are still offering something new and still progressing at the same time. Radiohead will never really beat their big commercial peaks but they don’t need too. That doesn’t matter now. Music has changed and this is the band that not only go with them changes but with their genre walking – create them too…