(Or, Seeing Ourselves in Radiohead's Moon Shaped Reflection)
Radiohead is a band whose members have always come off as a bit smarter than everyone else. Well, maybe not smarter. But somehow they knew things no one else did. And they warned us. They warned us that our moment at the end of the 20th century was crumbling. This began with The Bends and culminated in OK Computer. They warned us about the dystopian near-future to which we just might be heading, with Kid A and Amnesiac. With Hail to the Thief they warned us that the world we were living in right then was just fucked beyond all hope, a dystopian present for everyone but the rich and powerful. And so they always seemed a bit like emissaries from another world, or at least another reality. They were here to warn us, enlighten us, show us, the great collective Scrooge, the error of our ways before it got too late. “This is your warning.”
M. and I were discussing A Moon Shaped Pool last week. I said something to the effect that I didn’t yet have a handle on the work it was trying to do, where it was trying to take me. It didn’t sound like the warnings I had come to expect from Yorke & Co. Yet it was far removed from the nebulous sound of The King of Limbs. Something very meaningful was going on, whatever it was. And then, last night, listening to it in bed after a long, sad day, I got it. It wasn’t a warning at all. And Radiohead aren’t emissaries trying to save us from ourselves. They’re just people, and this album wasn’t trying to take me anywhere. It was just trying to remind me of everything I, we, all of us, have already been through. The doubts and fears that keep us from living and loving and embracing everything we should. The loss; deaths, heartbreaks, absences, lapsed friendships, youth. The loves and the sunsets and the massive nights. The persistence of failure, and the undying hope that we’ll get it right next time. The panic. The vomit. And all the fucking beauty at which we only occasionally bother to take the tiniest of glimpses. But it’s enough to keep us going.
Thumbnail image: cover art of A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead, May 2016, XL Records
Another great review: Radiohead Crafts Brutal Beauty on “A Moon Shaped Pool”