Unpicking the LUNAR MELANCHOLY of Radiohead’s New Album

Diving deep into the secret codes of A Moon Shaped Pool, with the help of new book Memories of the Moon Age.

We’re not in the 20th century anymore. We are not building lunar modules, but watching Elon Musk launch very literal moonshots.

While listening to Radiohead’s new album, A Moon Shaped Pool – a majestic liquid-life-still aquarium of human emotions turned into music – I stumbled upon a splendid little book written by Berlin-based curator Lukas Feireiss Memories of the Moon Age. It’s a well-researched anthology of visual representations and spin-offs of our obsession with the Moon: from the esoteric to the exotic, from technology to social history, the essay spans an impressive amount of enchantment explicitly linked to the eternal love story with our big yellow lamp.

It takes us from a Jesuit priest (somewhat unfittingly called Maximilian Hell: there’s even a crater on the Moon named Hell, after him) who conceived a method for redirect the lunar satellite’s negative energies, to Conrad Hilton’s obsession with implanting a branch of his hotel chain on the moon, later popularized in Mad Men.

Lukas Feireiss's Memories of the Moon Age. Photo by Gianluigi Ricuperati.

Lukas Feireiss’s Memories of the Moon Age, photographed by Gianluigi Ricuperati.

Speaking of Drapers, we learn that the first-ever photograph of the moon was been shot by an American photographer, John William Draper, in 1840. And speaking of music, we have obvious mentions of Beethoven and Pink Floyd (consider that one of the undergoing influences of OK Computer was The Dark Side of the Moon) as well as Claude Debussy’s enterprises of the early 20th century.

In Radiohead’s vision of the moon everything seems distant, beautiful and melancholically unreachable. If you add the environmental preoccupations that permeates almost every bit of their music, the picture seems even clearer. Their music is not aimed at consoling a race that builds lunar modules, but dealing with this moment by diving into a far older vision of the Moon.

Here are some possible lunar-melancholic interpretations of Radiohead’s last album:

The Words

Thom Yorke’s imagination as a lyricist has always been informed by a sci-fi kit: a classic, almost art-deco, almost medieval-languid-romantic build-up of images and stories. It’s one in which the “astral cars” of Pyramid Song fill a Dante-esque ascension to the heavens, extra-terrestrials kidnapping weirdos on ‘a country lane’ on Subterranean Homesick Alien, and tender lullabies in which children bring us to outer space on Sail to the Moon.

Decks Dark, one of A Moon Shaped Pool‘s highlights, opens with these somber lines: ”And in your life, there comes a darkness / And a spacecraft blocking out the sky / And there’s nowhere to hide.” Yorke’s texts are for the faithless, perhaps written in the hope that other inhabitants of the Universe are purer than us.

The Sound

The Moon has always been connected with water and ice, and even when we know there are no rivers running through it, it stills moves our earthly oceans. Jonny Greenwood and co’s passion for liquid-sounding drops circulate in every record since OK Computer,  and run through many songs produced by the band: but never like on this record the listener witnesses a cornucopia of suspended watery sounds. One of the band’s classical music heroes, Olivier Messiaen, composed a great opus called From the Canyons to the Stars, a comment that could be easily attached to the Radiohead’s ambitious overdrive. The road to the moon takes in the Milky Way.

Gianluigi Ricuperati 4
Radiohead
The Space Age