Albums Of The Week

A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead's most poignant album yet

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke (above) sings of the human and relatable.
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke (above) sings of the human and relatable.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Radiohead take on edgy subjects in alphabetical order in new album A Moon Shaped Pool

Anxiety, paranoia, suspicion - like all good Radiohead full-length releases, A Moon Shaped Pool delves into edgy subjects and wraps them in songs as tuneful as they are layered.

However, the album - their ninth - is also their most poignant to date, with a keen sense of yearning, brought about by loss, that is all too human and relatable.

The electronic glitches and krautrock-inspired rhythms reminiscent of early 2000s releases - Kid A and Amnesiac - pepper the release, but there is also a palpable emotional rush that harks back to 2007's In Rainbows or 1995's The Bends.

Many of the songs have been played live in some form over the years, but it is worth noting that frontman Thom Yorke's relationship with his partner, with whom he has two children, ended last year.

So songs and lines written as far back as 1995, as in the case of the achingly beautiful True Love Waits, take on a new significance.

"Don't leave," he pleads, his voice reaching breaking point over melancholic piano chords.

  • ALTERNATIVE/EXPERIMENTAL ROCK

  • A MOON SHAPED POOL

    Radiohead

    XL Recordings

    4.5/5 stars

Daydreaming is another lush and moody piece, with the singing parts driven by only four chords. The listener is lulled into a blissful stupor before backmasked and distorted vocals, which industrious fans online have deciphered to be the phrase "Half of my life" in reverse, jolts you back into consciousness.

A reference again, perhaps, to Yorke's recently ended relationship, which spanned 23 years and took up exactly half his life.

Multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, acclaimed for soundtrack work movies such as There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master (2012), brings a cinematic soundscape to many of the tracks.

The grand, majestic strings from the London Contemporary Orchestra feature prominently, whether it is on Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief's soaring finale or the insistent, urgent staccato of album opener - pre-album single Burn The Witch.

The latter ramps up on the paranoia and alludes to witch hunts and mob mentalities, in stark contrast to the adorable stop-motion music video inspired by 1960s British children series Trumpton.

"Panic is coming on strong/So cold, from the inside out", Yorke sings despondently on piano ballad Glass Eyes, an ode to alienation.

A couple of tracks take the folk route, with crisp acoustic guitar pickings and strums thrust to the fore. The Numbers is a call to action for climate change ("We are of the earth/To her we do return/The future is inside us"), while Present Tense sways with sensuous bossa nova and samba vibes.

One striking thing about the album is the way the songs are arranged in alphabetical order. Surely, this is no fluke for a band known for their meticulousness and attention to detail?

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, alternative rock pioneers The Pixies famously arranged their live set lists the same way just for laughs. So, maybe it is Radiohead putting a playful twist on an otherwise sombre gem.

dinohadi@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'ABCs of loss and longing'. Print Edition | Subscribe