Confession: Pool is my very first full-on Radiohead experience. I listened to Creep twice before (once, when an angsty ex sent it to me and another time because I decided to go to karaoke and weirdly enough, it’s a bit of a staple) and I used to have Karma Police on my iPod because I saw that music video but that’s about it.
But A Moon Shaped Pool is the rare record that easily converts people into Radiohead fans as easily as Beyonce did for the Queen Bey herself. It’s emotionally resonant, powerfully composed and as experimental as Pink Floyd wished it was on their best days. It’s the rare album that makes the case for albums themselves as a form of art; to create and choose a series of tracks that, combined, convey so much more meaning than they can on their own.
The reason why Pool is so great is because, like The Impossible Kid before it, it’s an album that speaks on a coded language that only people who experience the emotions that Thom Yorke and Aesop Rock have experienced can easily decode. Things like a “Low flying panic attack” or “I’m not living, I’m just killing time” only hold meaning for people who thoroughly know what depression can do to you at your very worst. There’s a genuine power in the way Thom Yorke plays with his personal history and turns it into the universal drama that most people in relationships have to play a part on, the risks, the drama and the like. Yorke’s lyricism is brilliant in its deep heartbreaking capabilities.
It’s also an album that showcases the varied talents of Radiohead’s illustrious members. Thom Yorke’s lyricism is, as always, as soulful as any human spirit can be, filled with pain, sorrow and hope. Jonny and Colin Greenwood showcase their love for music in arrangements that are reminiscent of Jonny’s work with Paul Thomas Anderson (who directed the Daydreaming video and turned it into a self-contained piece of pain that matches perfectly with what the song conveys) Phillip Selway demonstrates how jazz drumming can be transposed to modern rock tracks in numbers like Identikit and Ful Stop, further taking away from the throne of Charlie Watts as the king of Jazz-Rock
But the really compelling thing about A Moon Shaped Pool is that as hopeless and depressing as it may sound, there’s case for hope across the album. Thom Yorke’s lyricism comes across as lost and searching for a missing part of himself. But he keeps searching.. He keeps trying to figure out where it all went wrong. And unlike most breakup records (which A Moon Shaped Pool is), it’s not bitter. It only asks the questions that any person who’s gone through a breakup should ask “Where did it all go wrong?” and it doesn’t answer that question with “Her” because it knows that’s the easy answer. It constantly interrogates the singer and the listener with that question and it never delivers easy answers because it knows that question will never have those.
A Moon Shaped Pool is the rare album that delivers by showcasing just what music can be. It’s like looking at Pink Floyd take that rare next step into turning rock from “The Showoff Showcase” into the “Emotional Display” back when they released albums like Dark Side or Wish You Where Here. But it’s deeply rooted on the band’s talents and it’s deeply personal in such a way that you could never mistake them for playing themselves up as copycats. It’s the rare album that shakes you to the core and makes you question your path in life. But it’s also the best kind of album: The kind of album that is not afraid of being an album, of interconnecting it’s many pieces into a bigger whole that begs you to spend a whole set with this band’s pain and angst while trying to make you understand that maybe those feelings sound so familiar for a reason.