I would just like the record to show that I limited myself to writing about 2 Radiohead songs in this series. I did this in part because honestly the only other person who is likely to read this and care about Radiohead as much as I do is Quinn Brandt. S/o to Quinn.
There are few songs in this world that capture the essence of a feeling with such specificity as Identikit. From their latest LP and so called breakup record, A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead seeks to distill into a song the feeling you get when the person you have feelings for ends up being a mirage. They purported to be something that they weren’t. You’re left to feel confused, hurt, and in some ways tricked.
// When I see you messing me around // I don’t want to know //
Isn’t that so accurate? That moment when we realize that someone is toying with our feelings, wouldn’t it be so much better to just not know?
Here’s a little tidbit about A Moon Shaped Pool that I feel helps give some context needed to appreciate the sadness of this album. The band wrote and recorded this album shortly after frontman Thom split with his partner of 23 years and mother of his children, Rachel Owen. Thom was 46 years old at the time. This is significant because at the end of another dreary track on the album, Daydreaming, Thom’s reversed vocals are heard at the end saying “half of my life”. The record finishes with what is quite possibly their saddest song, True Love Waits. While to some this title might sound like it contains a glimmer of hope, I assure you it does not. The gist of this track is that much emotional anguish is wasted on love that is never returned. There are some early live recordings of this song that have a full band instrumentation and indeed sound very hopeful, but the track was never officially recorded until A Moon Shaped Pool in which it’s sorrowful tone matches its context. To cap it off (no, that wasn’t the cap), Thom’s ex died of cancer 7 months after this album was released. There’s an immense amount of emotional gravity to this record that could never have been planned for.
One of the things that I think is brilliant about this song is how they capture the subsequent feelings to this realization that you’re being toyed with; the heartbreak that accompanies it. Thom Yorke repeats his refrain for emphasis overtop thunderous drums, stabbing, electric guitar flourishes, and an ominous, cloudy synth bed. The song leaves no room for error in your interpretation; you’re listening to a thunderstorm. You can’t help but picture the flash flood of tears that pour out from the sonic clouds.
// Broken hearts make it rain //
Every part of this song is a stark symbol of heartbreak, and the end is no exception. Jonny Greenwood notoriously hates conventional guitar solos, so whenever he indulges in one, you can safely expect innovation. His staccato and erratic jabs at the end of this track emulate the visceral and inevitable pangs one encounters when they’ve invested in what ends up being unrequited. Radiohead are masters of this craft; of transforming very specific emotion into sound waves. This is my last try; give them a listen.