I’m onto a loser with this review, because the best one has already been written by the 8 year old son of tweeter @bethgordon:
The word “boring” crops up a couple of times and in a trade where radio pluggers demand immediacy, the first listen could give credence to the use of this adjective, but further investment reveals the sort of elegant creation that many an artist would die for. The use of space and ethereal melodies, which only develop with further listening, is exquisite. The album contains many songs which have been played live and existed in one form or another for a number of years, most recently The Numbers (then called Silent Spring) and Desert Island Disk, which were played by Thom in Paris in December. They have finally been shaped into a form the band are happy with.
First single Burn The Witch is a moody number with wailing vocals and sharp staccato strings that positively slice as the song reaches its climax. If you’re old enough to remember Trumpton, the video (which apparently took a mere two weeks to nail) is utterly genius, showing friendly looking children’s characters doing disturbing things, culminating in a scene from the horror movie The Wicker Man. The song is about raising awareness of the negative treatment of victims of the refugee crisis in Europe. Fans received a postcard stating, “We know where you live” shortly before the release, an attempt to provoke empathy with the refugee’s feelings of insecurity. It’s probably a good thing that they went retro in their choice of children’s characters. Today’s parents would probably be up in arms if they’d tried to recreate the shower scene from Psycho using Iggle Piggle from In The Night Garden.
Second track Daydreaming, again with a brilliant video of continual wandering and door opening, is (in the words of an 8 year old) a little boring, if I’m honest. I’ve never been much of a fan of the piano and vocal type song, a fact I blame on being exposed to Gilbert O’Sullivan at an early age. However the outro culminates in an enchanting orchestrated snoring. If only my husband could produce such sonorous snoozy sounds.
Thom Yorke’s recent split from his long-term partner, Rachel Owen, seems to shape some of the songs. Decks Dark, delivered in Thom’s low effort vocal, asks, “Have you had enough of me, sweet darling?” This, along with final track, True Love Waits, which is utterly heart-breaking, could indeed make you cry. “I’ll drown my beliefs, to have your babies, I’ll dress like your niece, and wash your swollen feet, just don’t leave, don’t leave.” The jittery piano in the background on one hand, the straightforward piano chords on the other, Thom’s yearning vocal and a feeling that the emotions have been completely laid bare in the way that only a man reflecting on his failures in his mid 40s could.
Desert Island Disk uses a repetitive acoustic riff overlaid with synth atmosphere to produce a mesmerising song with space and sonic interjections. The Numbers is my favourite track. Brother to Desert Island Disk, there is again a repetitive folky acoustic riff backed up by atmospheric vocals, a strange off kilter chord mid song and those gorgeous strings in the latter half of the song to build and finish. A “Save the World” song, it says “We are of the Earth, to her we do return, the future is inside us.” Simply wonderful. In fact the masterful use of the London Contemporary Orchestra throughout the album is extremely impressive. Spectre is not on this album, although it is being released on vinyl with Burn The Witch, but the soaring strings on that are goose bump inducing and these guys are expert in their ability to conduct.
The songs Present Tense and Ful (should it be Full?) Stop make me smile, as by a quirk of fate the album release coincides with news of a rogue marker leaking the SAT Grammar paper due to be undertaken in primary schools this week by 11 year olds. A mark deducted for spelling I’m afraid. Ful Stop and Identikit are two of the more upbeat numbers, and add to the boxing analogy by our 8 year old, a hint of oriental vocal in the latter, hence the Kung Fu Panda reference.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief is the most abstract and odd track, sounding initially as if they recorded it with an old synth in a tunnel and finishing with the impression that you’re hearing a distant passing train. Radiohead retain the right to be downright odd, and major in the minor.
While 7 out of 10 from our young reviewer is slightly harsh, there are a couple of tracks I could live without, but overall you remain with the impression that you’ve listened to a piece of Art, not a piece of music, and that’s quite an achievement.