Best albums of 2016: No 10 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

Was Radiohead’s ninth album the sound of them opening up? An accidental soundtrack to the era of Trump? Whatever the answer, it was one of their best

Radiohead’s ninth album was viewed in some quarters as the group backing away from their usual existential angst and instead looking internally and opening up. Maybe it was a breakup album, after Thom Yorke’s 23-year relationship with the mother of his two children ended, or a mid-life appraisal as the band approached their 50s? Or perhaps it was simply them lodging their tongues in their cheeks and having fun with their image as the stern stalwarts of British rock? Whatever their intentions, it’s possibly the best album they’ve produced and showed once again that they’re a band who can evolve while retaining the core tenets of what defines them.

On the face of it, A Moon Shaped Pool was a finishing school for many of the band’s song ideas. Burn the Witch had existed in some form since the Kid A days, True Love Waits was a curio that’s more than a decade old and featured on the live album I Might Be Wrong, while Present Tense was performed by Yorke as part of his solo shows at the turn of the last decade. That track’s evolution from sketchy guitar number into a beautifully wrought, bossa nova-tinged ballad was typical of an album where the band married sensitive subjects with a lightness of touch. This was a Radiohead record where things rarely kicked off, where restraint ruled and where everything was pared back, be it the guitar-playing of Jonny Greenwood or the band’s love of electronica.

Lyrically, Yorke stuck to his tried and tested method of using mundane idiom as the bricks and mortar for the hooks, choruses and verses that tie an album together. “Don’t get heavy,” he sang on Present Tense, perhaps in reference to the band’s austere image, while on Decks Dark there was room for a reference to the grammatical faux pas of splitting infinitives.

Contained within A Moon Shaped Pool was also a Hail to the Thief-like warning about the state of the world, which felt more appropriate than ever. Burn the Witch’s McCarthyist overtones and Orwellian lyrics came at a time when one of Yorke’s biggest fears, the rise of far-right ideology, is becoming a reality in major western democracies. While Hail to the Thief skewered the Bush-Blair era, it’s possible A Moon Shaped Pool will provide the accidental soundtrack to the time of Trump.

More on the best culture of 2016


Lanre Bakare

The GuardianTramp

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