A Moon Shaped Pool starts at the end. All screeching strings and thudding drums, “Burn the Witch” is a burning forest, a cacophonous apocalypse whose conclusion climbs like fire ‘til it suddenly dies. The next song, “Daydreaming”, is its sonic opposite: soft, ethereal piano meanders among gently sinister vocals and strings, a ghost wandering the ashes of an ended world, analysing scattered and scorched artifacts. AMSP is concerned with two kinds of worlds – the shared world of a marriage and that of the Earth itself. With its melancholic string arrangements, it’s an elegy for each after divorce and environmental collapse.
More tangible to the individual, the former takes precedence: most of the tracks examine the relationship in a post-mortem mosaic. On “Daydreaming” Thom Yorke mourns that ‘Dreamers, they never learn’, evoking the varied arrogances that leads to varied self-destructions, the human delusion that we can overcome the inevitable. “Identikit” characterises adultery as a symptom of deeper problems with its mantra-like bridge ‘Broken hearts make it rain.’ And on “Ful Stop” someone is told ‘You really messed up everything’, asked ‘Why should I be good if you’re not?’ – suggesting shared blame and the denial of it, mourning the loss of ‘All the good times’ without accepting what ended them.
Most of the album, then, deals more with the end of a personal world. But a larger collapse looms as Yorke discusses divorce in the language of apocalypse. “Decks Dark” depicts the approach of the unbelievable yet inevitable end: ‘There’s a spacecraft / Blocking out the sky / And there’s nowhere to hide’. And in “Present Tense” we see a speaker in denial, dancing away their troubles ‘as [their] world comes crashing down’. “The Numbers” makes the environmental theme explicit, stressing the connection between humanity and nature (‘We are of the earth/to her we do return’) and criticising ‘the system’ that abuses it.
The primary emotion of this album – unbearable loss – is encapsulated in its final track. Once a submissive love song, it took 21 years for “True Love Waits” to be released as a studio recording. Reinterpreted, it’s a desperate plea to unwrite what’s written. “Just don’t leave / Don’t leave” the speaker begs. But it’s too late. As Yorke sings on “Daydreaming”, ‘The damage is done.’