“Burn the Witch”

I can’t write about A Moon Shaped Pool in its entirety. It contains multitudes. So I’m going to try going one track at a time.

Having said that, let me open with a statement about the album as a whole: most of it is as introverted, by turns warm and claustrophobic, an album as has ever been recorded. But “Burn the Witch,” the opening, is a different animal, something that feels more like the overtly political Hail to the Thief than the darkly personal In Rainbows. We’re encouraged by the cheerily ominous strings and the bass line to simultaneously embrace and cower in fear from the witch hunt underway. “Abandon all reason / avoid all contact / do not react / shoot the messengers,” Yorke sings. The high strings gradually become more and more unhinged in the second chorus, dropping out for a bit, then coming back in to escalate into complete mayhem.

It’s hard not to interpret the song as referring to the current state of democratic political discourse. But I’m going to suggest that there’s more to it. On a much more personal level, this is the sound of someone’s life coming apart. “This is a low flying panic attack” is not a political response but a personal one. This isn’t “a roundup”; the singer is getting rounded up. The “loose talk around tables” is a personal attack.

I can’t help but think of the context of Yorke’s marriage dissolving, of his singing “I just wanna be your lover…forget about your house of cards, and I’ll do mine” nine years ago, only to follow with “your ears should be burning” regarding the gossip following infidelity. “Denial, denial” indeed. “Burn the Witch” is the sound of old hurts coming home to roost.

And yes, it’s also about unfair demonization of immigrants. Funny how art works that way.