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Radiohead: The Bends versus A Moon Shaped Pool

In reaction to the overwhelmingly positive critical response to Radiohead’s latest release: A Moon Shaped Pool I decided to give it a listen.  While I appreciated its technical merit, and the effort that went into the creation of the music, I really didn’t enjoy it.  To my ears, each track was more like a soundscape than anything else, full of ambient noise, and off kilter instruments.  Confused, by the disappointment of my listening session, I decided to delve a little deeper into Radiohead’s discography with their 1995 release, The Bends.

I enjoyed this album a lot more than its modern counterpart.  Boring piano sections were replaced by sweet sounding guitars, and far more upbeat drum parts.  Where, A Moon Shaped Pool bores, The Bends entertains and entices with all the punch of a 90s rock album, but the melodic sensibility that Radiohead has since come to be known for.

Opening track “Planet Telax” features fuzzy rhythm strings, the whinier side of Yorke’s voice, and a pretty tough complementary guitar riff.  It is, however, not without its similarities to the band’s latest material.  Both opening tracks for example, begin and end with an electronic ringing that simulates the effect of traveling through a tunnel.

“Black Star” allows Yorke to demonstrate his vocal range, alternating between high and low, jumping octaves like hurdles.  This is not unique to The Bends but in my opinion, that is where his voice is best used.  It sounds loads better against the distorted guitar and mid-tempo drums, than it does accompanied by piano, and maybe some soft guitar that, if you ask me is just far too mellow.

So, as someone who is a casual fan at best, I have come to the conclusion that I will probably never venture to listen to A Moon Shaped Pool again, but I do have a profound respect for Yorke and company.  Not only has the band forged its own musical path, but they have cultivated their identity to such a degree that though wildly different, The Bends and A Moon Shaped Pool contain peculiarities of, and are identifiable as the work of the same artist.  Such consistency is to be held in the utmost of reverence, even if the music isn’t for everyone.


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