The last couple of Radiohead album releases have been unorthodox before our conventional streaming method as of late. In Rainbows introduced the “pay what you want” model, The King of Limbs had a special “newspaper edition” that wanted to reflect the natural decay of living things, and A Moon Shaped Pool saw no interviews conducted with a deletion of all social media beforehand. A video for the lead single, “Burn The Witch” and away we went anticipating another album release. Our newest offering from Radiohead is one of their most personal, vulnerable, and musically inclined to date.
This album has many meanings and interpretations – the most literal would be Thom Yorke‘s recent separation from his partner of 23 years, Rachel Owen (we’ll get to that in a bit). AMSP’s beauty lies that it can be literally dissected to mean a number of things that apply to now. A few of these songs have been played in earlier forms (“Ful Stop,” “Identikit,” “Present Tense”), but find a proper release with this album. Although they may have had a different meaning before, they are totally relevant within the context of this album – that speaks to the timelessness of these songs. There are overt political tones within this album as well. The first song, “Burn The Witch” can be interpreted as a statement against the mass hysteria that is within our current news casts and campaigns. (“This is a low flying panic attack”). ‘The Channels” heeds the urgent calls regarding climate change and sustainability of the planet itself. Radiohead in some form, continue to be a huge component in observing the social landscape and making a informative comment on it.
There’s also a theme of anxiety stemming from renewal. “The Glass”, finds our character who is terrified being in a crowd full of people (“Their faces are concrete grey/And I’m wondering if I should turn around?”) and finds solstice in getting lost within one’s own nature (“Through the dry bush/ I don’t know where it leads/ I don’t really care“) “Desert Island Disk” tackles the initial feeling of being free from a bad relationship trying to stay rooted in the present as much as possible. The beautiful and brutal honesty that is apparent within AMSP shows the variant ups and downs that come with an ending of a long time union or being in a land that’s foreign to you. With the music landscape that has changed in a dizzying manner, some of these songs can speak for the band itself. Radiohead as an entity may feel foreign in a land that is geared towards streaming and extreme musical consumption.
Two of the most personal and heart wrenching narratives on the album are the two piano ballads, “Daydreaming” and “True Love Waits”. The dreary “Daydreaming,” draws its power from its stripped down premise so that you can focus on the arrangements. Many of the songs elements which includes the lyrics are arranged in reverse. Yorke sings “and it’s too late/the damage is done” against the backdrop of “half of my life” playing alongside it. “True Love Waits” which was first conceived way back in 1995 is even more relevant present-day. The album’s ending is like a silent film, where our protagonist is left in shambles trying to hold on to any semblance of happiness that they were accustomed to.
This album was released within last gasp of spring before summer takes over, but would have been perfect during the cold grips of winter. AMSP commands your complete attention with all the layers and scales that it entails. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of musical work. Johnny Greenwood’s work with the London Contemporary Orchestra makes for an almost like movie score-like listen. Subsequent albums before this relied on electronics with are still present, but the songs with piano, driving bass, and acoustic guitar steal the show. It’s a eleven song movie that if you miss a block of it, you may miss the overall message entirely. The album is not only a statement concerning the present, whether you tie it to the band or Yorke directly, it’s a great summary of how you can bring the past to propel you into the future.