RELEASING albums without warning is so passé. So trust the band who have made a later career of finding new ways to release and distribute their music to go for something a little more conventional.
Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool | Rating: **** | XL Recordings
Radiohead have been dropping teasing hints for weeks that a new album was in the offing. The surprise element this time round comes from its gorgeous, elegant sound.
For their ninth album, these arch experimentalists have fully reacquainted themselves with mellifluous melody. A Moon Shaped Pool foregrounds their loveliest instrument – Thom Yorke’s plaintive voice – and surrounds its mournful timbre with other lovely instrumentation, making it Radiohead’s most accessible album in quite some time and also their prettiest, possibly ever.
This is Radiohead though, so the beauty is accompanied by black and white mugshots of the band looking like the James gang, and they kick off with the relative urgency of Burn the Witch with its intimations of a “low-flying panic attack”.
READ MORE: Album review: Radiohead – The King of Limbs
However, this paranoia gives way to the gentle desolation of Daydreaming with its minimal undulating piano and Yorke ruefully intoning that “it’s too late, the damage is done” and the haunting tone is set.
Yorke doesn’t appear to be capable of sounding upbeat but his yearning is swaddled in comforting strings, arranged by guitarist Johnny Greenwood with a cinematic skill, gleaned from his soundtrack work for Paul Thomas Anderson.
There are shades of Beck’s exquisite Morning Phase and Van Dyke Parks’ pop symphonies in the California dreaming of The Numbers, though there is arguably less warmth in Radiohead’s lunar lullabies. The soft, pastoral, folky contours of Desert Island Disk are unsettled by the electronic washes underneath and there is a pervasive chill to the lyrics.
But there is also much to luxuriate in. The eddying strings and electric piano of Glass Eyes, bossa nova reverie of Present Tense and siren chorus of Decks Darks all make you weep for the rejection of their stately Bond theme Spectre. That offering is not included here; instead, they bow out beautifully with the tremulous, 20-year-old torch song True Love Waits.