This is the sixth in a series of posts that look at individual tracks on Radiohead’s 2016 album A Moon Shaped Pool.
With “Glass Eyes” we are back in the sound world of “Daydreaming,” a ballad anchored by a piano heard through distortion and swimming in strings. At this point in their career, the band are too good to let it just be “strings,” though, and the performance of the string quartet isn’t just accompaniment. It underscores the dull ache at the core of the narrator, as it swells under “panic is coming on strong” and “I don’t know where it leads, I don’t really care”; climaxes before the bridge, and then turns somber for a moment as the narrator confesses “I feel this love turn cold.”
The narrator starts in an unusually direct voice, as though on a phone call, telling someone “I just got off the train” before almost immediately shifting perspective: “a frightening place / their faces are concrete grey.” In the four opening lines, Yorke’s narrator evokes both Adele and Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” though immediately freezes the warmth out of Pound’s famous “petals on a wet, black bough.” These faces are cold and stone, and they reflect the narrator’s panic back at him.
The narrator shifts in space, now going on a path down a mountain, but finds no more surcease in the dry, dead vegetation than in the train station. Ultimately he has to confess the source of his pain: “I feel this love turn cold.” The strings get the last word, as the solo cello line is underpinned by double bass.
“Glass Eyes” is the shortest song on the album and the most emotionally fraught, as Yorke’s narrator allows himself to be confronted by the full weight of the dissolution of his love.