“Desert Island Disk”

This is the fourth in a series of posts that look at individual tracks on Radiohead’s 2016 album A Moon Shaped Pool.

“Desert Island Disk” snaps the mood of the first three songs on A Moon Shaped Pool, and brings us to an entirely different place. It is of the few songs on the album to make an appearance in substantially final form prior to the album’s release: Yorke premiered it live and solo, along with “The Numbers” and “Present Tense,” at Pathway to Paris last December, as shown in the clip above.

The full band arrangement is still primarily centered around Yorke’s English folk solo guitar and gentle vocal melody. There’s some bass reinforcement, synth and a very subtle guitar line, but they’re very much in the background—the drums don’t even arrive until the bridge, a full 2:18 into the song. The overall effect, oddly enough for a Radiohead song, is pastoral, centered on the narrator’s epiphany as he wakes from “a thousand years of sleep”: “the wind rushing round my open heart / an open ravine / in my spirit white / totally alive / in my spirit light… Standing on the edge of you / you know what I mean / Different types of love / are possible.”

It’s about the most un-Radiohead sentiment possible, seemingly free of the guilt and dread that saturate the first three tracks. But one has to ask: is the narrator really “totally alive/totally released”? With that heart as an open ravine? We’ll see. Still, standing on its own, “Desert Island Disk” stands as one of the most unguarded, hopeful moments in the band’s whole discography.

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