I can name on two hands the number of albums I have bought as a digital pre-release in the last few years. It should come as no surprise that Radiohead figures highly on that list; the group responsible for popularising the ‘pay what you like’ model with In Rainbows have continued to confound critics and fans with surprises, slow builds and sudden bursts ever since. Given that my iPhone is sort of like a lobotomised iPod with internet capability these days, I had to delete four apps to make room for A Moon Shaped Pool, or as I like to title it, The Album That Resulted In As Many Unsolicited Think Pieces As That Beyonce Joint. It was definitely worth it. Despite the fact that they showed one of their aces early with the tremendously glorious, ‘Daydreaming’, there was still plenty to get excited about. Most notably, we’ve reached a point in the Radiohead timeline where they’re not so much concerned with songs as they are with movements and textural changes. We’ve been here once before, obviously; the one-two punch of Kid A and Amnesiac tearing apart any prior expectations of how a band made music. But even that had an inbuilt thruster that this record deliberately lacks. It’s not really a case of being laconic, but rather a band acknowledging that the most radical way to reinvent after two decades is to follow their own social media example and literally start erasing yourself and seeing what’s underneath.
This brings us to what I believe is one of the three focal points (‘True Love Waits’ inevitably being the last) of the record, the subtly beautiful ‘Glass Eyes.’ For a song created by five – or perhaps only three – people, it’s so light that one feels the need to play it over and over, as if to add some sort of permanence, an anchor to keep it from disappearing into the ether. A halo of strings, effects and vocals that fall like water around a delicate piano motif, ‘Glass Eyes’ has no chorus, and progresses in an A/B/A/B/C sort of formation. It’s a short movement that is impossible to forget, which is impressive for a song so untethered. The counterpoint between Thom Yorke’s fragile melody, specifically in the C section, with this motif, is one of those moments of special otherworldliness that has brought Radiohead so many life devotees.
Listen to Yorke’s deliberation in the first few lines, seemingly waiting for the piano to catch up rather than pushing to finish to lyrical phrase neatly. Or the way the piano refreshes itself anew with each section, poised and waiting on an eternal ritardando like a soloist with a conductor’s baton. This may not be Radiohead’s best album, but it is certainly their finest hour.
We are exceedingly lucky to be basking in its afterglow.