The return of Radiohead with A Moon Shaped Pool was watched with quiet interest by Getintothis’ David Hall, meanwhile in a parallel universe his 16-year-old self was thrown into paroxysms of excitement.
I’m a massive Radiohead fan. As a teenager at college, I was borderline obsessed with them. The list of other bands they got me listening to is endless – influences, collaborators, those who followed – if they were Radiohead-sanctioned I was right there.
Most people have this relationship with one artist or another at one time or another. It’s a symbiotic relationship; you will always find yourself drawn to the bands your idols idolised, seeking out those catalogues to understand an influence, or the origin of a particular sound. You read novels by authors who inspired your favourite artists’ lyrics, research the backgrounds to tracks and artwork. Obsession is good in this case, it’s a positive thing.
Radiohead in my late teens were such an artist for me. I could name you the B-sides to any of their singles (please don’t call me out on that, we’re both certain to regret it). I’ve got bootlegs aplenty; from their 2002 shows in Salamanca – previewing material from the then-upcoming Hail to the Thief – unreleased rarities like Lift, Big Boots, and an early version of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi from 2005, which Jonny Greenwood scored originally for an orchestra before it was reworked.
If all of this means nothing to you, looks like I win at ‘who’s a more pathetically anal Radiohead fan’. Or lose. Definitely lose, actually.
All with good reason however. There are few other artists’ catalogue with the breadth, experimentation and underlying song-craft of Radiohead‘s. They’ve got anthems, bangers aplenty and a deep vault of hidden gems. Their waterline may have gone in and out with the tide over the years, but it’s been consistently high, and its peaks could overwhelm any levy.
OK Computer has been voted ‘greatest album of all time’ so often that any further polls are almost a foregone conclusion at this point.
Circa In Rainbows, the band were pissing massive tunes out as if they were going out of fashion following two tentative records. It’s summery – summery! – dripping with killer pop cuts like Jigsaw Falling Into Place. The Oxford five piece seemed unstoppable.
And yet – of course there’s an ‘and yet’ – there has been a palpable loss of momentum since then. If In Rainbows was a runaway steamroller barrelling downhill, its follow-up was an open storm drain.
The King of Limbs is spiny and brittle, a rickety and difficult album to love, even for long-time Radiohead fans. Of course, there are times when it achieves lift-off; its second side wrecks the first, kicking off with Lotus Flower. Codex is beautiful, Separator impossibly groovy, its guitar line eventually breaking through clouds which hang over the entire record. But overall, it was an entirely different proposition from In Rainbows, and to this day still seems an almost wilfully oblique move.
Further momentum was haemorrhaged by the band’s apparent unwillingness to tour The King of Limbs. Under sixty gigs. Three UK dates (two in London), not counting their secret set at Glastonbury. Whichever way you cut it, not an extensive string of dates. And that’s really where we left off, until Spectre, and now A Moon Shaped Pool.
The point is this: it’s so hard to be a Radiohead fan these days. Honestly, it’s wearing, has been for a while. You don’t get an album for years, then when you do there’s an equal chance of it being an OK Computer-busting masterwork or a Hail to the Thief mixed bag which takes serious sifting-through.
The diminishing number of Radiohead fan sites is telling. Back in the day, At Ease and Greenplastic were professional and passionate. Both petered out in 2013, their creators clearly swimming against the tide.
I feel myself drifting away from Radiohead. Our relationship isn’t quite broken, but it’s certainly lost its spark. It’s cooled considerably. The word I’d choose to describe how I feel about them now is ‘disconnected’.
Why? For a start, it’s inevitable that the closest the band will ever visit to me is Manchester. I last saw them at Lancashire County Cricket Club on the In Rainbows tour; to be fair, in parts it was a triumphant show. But they really might as well have been hovering in an airship above the city, piping Idioteque down through a loudhailer array, for all the intimacy the enormodome setting conjured.
Being such a high-profile act poses a problem, I get it. Radiohead chose to address that problem themselves; on the King of Limbs tour by charging £60 for arena shows. This time around its 65 quid, providing you can make it to London’s Roundhouse later this month. Thanks but no thanks Thom, mate. I haven’t got a spare twoer knocking around for train tickets, gig tickets and a hotel room.
Not the first time they’ve played intimate shows in relatively recent times. Also not the first instance in which you’re out of luck if you live outside of London.
A green touring policy implemented circa In Rainbows has a lot to answer for. Yes, it threw up an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, which was an innovative and ethically-minded exclusive. Rather than flying over to New York for an appearance, the band recorded a live performance of House of Cards during their From the Basement sessions in a bid to lessen CO2 emissions.
However on a touring scale, the notion the band should travel less and the fans more is entirely backward, both from an environmental and artistic perspective; a larger handful of centralised tour dates is bound to be an obstacle for an audience wishing to connect with the band. The globe-trotting Daydreamer video featuring an interloping Thom Yorke may be as gorgeous as the track’s avant-garde arrangement, but hardly seems a green production on the face of things.
Headlining shows across multiple festivals globally indicates that this is not a situation Yorke and co. intend to remedy any time soon. The idea that they would repeat or imitate the Kid A tour, rolling up pretty much wherever they felt like and playing in a circus big top, seems about as remote as it gets.
A Moon Shaped Pool will take a lot of decoding – regardless of how familiar a few of the songs like Identikit, Ful Stop, and particularly True Love Waits are – but in truth it’s never been Radiohead’s studio output where the problem has lain.
If a first listen of A Moon Shaped Pool gives any indications, Radiohead have reinvented the wheel once again with album number nine, preceded by the throbbing, chorusless, yet somehow immediate Burn the Witch. Would we rather have this than a return to a consistency their loyal fanbase deserve? That depends on whether you’re a casual observer, or more emotionally invested in the band.
You may disagree, but personally I’d rather have an extensive tour than a clever Wicker Man-meets-Camberwick Green promo video any day followed by another surprise-release any day. If I’ve felt myself drifting away from Radiohead, I only hope A Moon Shaped Pool can draw us all back in.
A Moon Shaped Pool:
01 Burn the Witch
03 Decks Dark
04 Desert Island Disk
05 Ful Stop
06 Glass Eyes
08 The Numbers
09 Present Tense
10 Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief
11 True Love Waits