Radiohead’s Latest Snoozefest: A Moon Shaped Pool
“They remain a rock band who don’t want to rock.” Neil McCormick The Telegraph
“One thing Radiohead no longer worries about is digital technology. During the 1990s, when Radiohead made “OK Computer,” its songs warned desperately about technology’s incursions on individuality. But in Radiohead’s music now, technology is just a tool, ubiquitous and unremarkable, not the center of attention.” Jon Parales The New York Times
“Slow-burn synth-rock epic “Identikit” climaxes with their wildest guitar solo—arguably their only real guitar solo—since OK Computer.” Ryan Reed Paste
“ …the closest to a horns-up guitar solo Radiohead has ever come (on “Identikit”).” Jeremy D. Larson Pitchfork
It’s the hilarity of the last quote listed above that finally convinced me that I had to weigh in on Radiohead’s latest snoozefest of an album. It’s an album that is so desperately craved by, not only Radiohead fans, but the music industry itself that it could be an album full of tape hiss and electronic garble and it would be universally praised as the greatest album since Dark Side of The Moon or Bitches Brew. Although I seriously doubt if “Thom Yorke shit in a lightbulb…it’d be 9/10” as Noel Gallagher recently stated. Who’d get close enough to review it? Sorry Noel, it’s over. Live off the royalties…
“…Radiohead no longer worries about…digital technology” as Mr. Parales so succinctly put it in his review for The New York Times. Herein lies the problem. In the 1990s, and even into the early ‘00s, Yorke and the dorks not only worried about technology, they clashed with it enroute to striking an uneasy cease-fire with it. At a few pristine moments on Kid A and Amnesiac even, they brashly and loudly went to war with technology, eventually triumphing over it. They domesticated it while still managing to remain not only the loudest (moral) authority in the room, but the smartest (and most passionate) one as well. Now though, with songs that move at the same tempo, bathe in the same electronic blue light, and never get their lather up…over anything…Radiohead have fully surrendered the majority of their humanity and passion to technology. They’ve allowed it to seduce them into complacency, much like the millions of iPhone (held at navel height) gazing drones have. They’ve allowed technology to grasp victory from the jaws of subjugation.
Radiohead have abandoned their greatest weapon against ennui inducing technology: the guitar. Have they forgotten that the guitar is the relatively new technology, even in our rapidly advancing technological age, that drove them to victory through its silence- except when at the touch of a carbon based being- therefore allowing it only to truly serve its purpose through organic infusion? Have they forgotten that a pre-programmed synth beat can run indefinitely, but not nearly as powerfully or passionately as a guitar played by a human can? MUSE, a band who passed Radiohead in relevancy about a decade ago, sure haven’t. They even wrote and recorded a dubstep song (“2nd Law-Unsustainable”) using drum, bass, guitar, and little else, thusly beating technology at its own game, something Radiohead used to do with frequency. No computer keyboard necessary…or at least relied upon. MUSE continues to make guitar rock that sounds like just about nothing else out there: something else Radiohead used to do with frequency…and at a level of mastery unheard of at the time. Even when they weren’t rocking (something they’ve totally abandoned at this point), they still made incredibly interesting music. Kid A remains a fascinating record. A worthy experiment that eschewed the guitars, but still managed a certain level of passion that is just now totally absent from anything Radiohead records. Radiohead aren’t just “no longer worried about digital technology.” They have completely surrendered to it and let it take over, thusly driving the passion from their music.
Let’s go back to the reason that the album could be a recording of tape hiss and electronic garble and still be universally praised. For the first time in a while, we have a Radiohead album presented in all its “buy now” glory. It got a special release on a Sunday and is available on iTunes for $10.99. The music industry is in a major shambles now because no one pays for music anymore.This removes the incentive to properly invest in an artist, band, or musical project since there’s little chance of recuperating a profit on the investment; In addition, it doesn’t afford record companies or artists the ability to employ anyone to work on the album, man the studio, do the promotion; in essence, it doesn’t pay anyone a wage or create more music industry jobs. The kind of jobs that used to be had at a record company, record store, or online retailer, etc, and that are dwindling fast. Americans complain about the lack of jobs, and their demagogues vow daily to create them. It’s hard to do so when we, as a society, treasure theft over investment, though, in most aspects of our world, not just in the music/artistic industries. Ah, but I digress…that’s a story for another time…
So, when Mr. Larson at Pitchfork states that A Moon Shaped Pool’s “Identikit” contains, “..the closest to a horns-up guitar solo Radiohead has ever come..” he’s obviously never heard, or is ignoring, OK Computer’s “Electioneering” or The Bend’s title track with its truly “horns-up” soloing. Larson’s dubious assertion is meant to demonstrate that A Moon Shaped Pool’s songs appeal to every aspect of Radiohead fandom, and therefore is worthy of your purchase. It’s not meant to be a statement of truth, but a statement of passively aggressive commercial coercion. The only thing that A Moon Shaped Pool truly appeals to is the aspect of the Radiohead fandom’s desire to be lulled to sleep. In that aspect, the album is a massive success; sadly it’s a success that is unintentional.
It’s often said that those most riled up and angry about something often really only feel that way because they care about or love something so much. I’ve doubted this adage many times over the past year while watching Trumpite rallies. People can get just as riled up over hate as they can love. I can honestly say though that I’m all riled up here because I really do love Radiohead so much. Or at least I did. The Bends and OK Computer are two of my favorite albums of all time. I even liked their electronically influenced turn towards the orchestral on Kid A and Amnesiac. I just never thought that they would totally abandon where they came from, not just musically, but emotionally.