Collecting thoughts on Christmas Day befits the silence that surrounds the words I type. Nothing in the scheme of things could have prepared even the most ardent follower of Radiohead for a lingering sense of undeserved completeness that A Moon Shaped Pool innocently conjures. I wonder, in retrospect, if the journey needed the experiments, the rendezvous with sublime chaos before a surrender as honest and unequivocal as the 11 track arrangement could be made. An odd sense of satisfaction, interspersed with an introspective joy of knowing that despite everything, this year will teach you to get by is mirrored best in the album that helped us choose our Artist of the Year (English) – Radiohead.
There is running, an immediate sense of movement with a “low flying panic attack” in the opener – Burn the Witch which has existed since the days of Kid A and whose song lyrics were featured on the album artwork of Hail to the Thief during the band’s anti-Bush days of 2003. The rush is suspended in Daydreaming with a gentle opening, almost lullabying notes of a descending season. Thom Yorke’s voice carries you through a calm declaration. “Dreamers,they never learn”, delivered with persevering conviction. Alongside the echoes and the accompanying piano, a gradual sway of being inside a moving car listening to trains pass by fades with the last of the cellos. “We’re just happy to serve you.”
Decks Dark defines itself as a natural continuation in the sequence, lending meaning to the soul of the album – the orchestral presence arranged by Jonny Greenwood, the band’s guitarist and performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra. “There’s nowhere to hide”, this time, as the choral background preserves the refrain of ‘“just a laugh”. A folk riff sustains the whispers of Desert Island Disk and remains “totally alive” with a lasting affirmation./You know what I mean/Different types of love/Are possible/
The movement palpably returns with Ful Stop– a track that seems more familiar to the experimental sound associated with the band. The brief interlude of a prevailing chase ends with an effortless return to an established stillness in Glass Eyes which grabs the listener unexpectedly with its aching honesty. The lyrics float insouciantly with the concluding notes on a cello as the imagery of the song struggles to dispel its departure. Separation underlies the indistinct, distant hums that prefix the melancholic expression of Identikit and the throbbing descent of “broken hearts make it rain” have been with Yorke’s separation from his long time partner last year.
That this album is as personal as relevant, carefully building on stories, with familiar tunes and unfailing submission is exemplified in Numbers where the bigger picture returns, according to climate change. A confluence of motion and stillness is retained in the congregation of scattered voices and the distant reminders of a symphony arranged around Yorke’s reverberating presence. /We are of the earth//To her we do return//The future is inside us//It’s not somewhere else/. The dance with surrealism continues as the album intersects polarities of peaceful clarity and missing sanity. “In you, I am lost”, dies with the last beats of Present Tense while the lyrics to Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief caution, and are subsequently drowned in an aura of the track’s crescendo.
Then there is True Love Awaits, a song that has been in existence since 1995. This old Radiohead favourite appeared first in 2001 on I Might Be Wrong but the 2016 rendition is drenched in an echo of Yorke’s soulful soliloquy with a piano, overpowering and unsettling in the sheer nature of its simple existence.
Look closely at the album cover, designed by Stanley Donwood, the band’s long-time friend and collaborator. The submission to make order out of chaos, the acceptance of persisting helplessness, the cyclical pattern of unending struggles and timeless resolutions are evident. Perhaps one had to wait for a time when such a truth could be seen.
Radiohead released its ninth studio album on May 8,2016 after about a week of publicity. The album, which in less than two months was certified gold, in the years to come will serve as one of the few memories worthy of nostalgia from the year that 2016 was.