“Identikit”

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

“Identikit,” as its name suggests, is a mosaic built of fragments. The lyrics are snatches of thought that cut each other off and overlap with each other. The musical underpinnings—drums, bass, backing vocals by Ed O’Brien sung from the bottom of an echo chamber—live in staccato until the bridge sweeps us from F# minor into B major, a trick we’ve heard before, on “Decks Dark,” when the bass line starts to sustain and build.

(Music theory aside: I find it interesting how Radiohead pivots from minor to major at the same time they make a key change, going not for the relative minor, here A major, but jumping up a whole tone before they drop back down. It’s a neat trick. I also find it interesting how the opening of the song has been taken up a half step since its 2012 introduction—here shown on their “Austin City Limits” appearance.)

And then Yorke’s voice sharpens on the chorus line, “Broken hearts make it rain,” and suddenly as the bass line descends he’s surrounded by the women’s voices of the chorus of the London Contemporary Orchestra (Ah, to have that gig!), who take us back into F# singing the refrain. But the sustained lyrical heights of “broken hearts…” don’t last and the main tune returns, and is slowly deconstructed until a spiky Jonny Greenwood guitar solo takes us out.

It’s a neat piece of work and I find myself simultaneously enthralled and put off by it. Enthralled because the heights it reaches in the chorus are so high. Put off, a little, because it’s just a little too in control. The song, to borrow Elvis Costello’s lyric, fits its identikit a little too completely. I’d love for that moment of transcendence in the chorus to last a while longer, or to lift us to a new place.

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