This is the tenth in a series of posts that look at individual tracks on Radiohead’s 2016 album A Moon Shaped Pool.
We are on the home stretch of our review of A Moon Shaped Pool as we consider “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Thief,” hereafter “Tinker Tailor.” The electric piano intro and drum machine playing a slow dirge tip us off from the opening: we are back in the land of low flying panic attacks, as Yorke’s narrator imagines creatures leaving their holes looking for prey. We are also back in the land of unhappy nature, which goes in this song from indifferent to actively hostile.
As the track builds, with strings, acoustic piano, guitar and live drums adding to the arrangement, so does the sense of foreboding doom. But why? The narrator is not concerned about traditional animals; they “stay up in the trees” and “swim down too deep and lonely” to avoid what’s coming. Instead, he begs his lover, “come to me before it’s too late.” And he warns “the one you light your fires to keep away / is crawling out…”
At this point, the confrontation between the narrator and his fear is complete and he acknowledges it for what it is: it’s not hostile nature, it’s the narrator himself, or something inside him. But he has the power to end the confrontation: “all you have to do is say / yeah.” The track works, in the context of the rest of the album, as a powerful bit of Jung, a breakthrough of the walls the narrator has built to avoid confronting himself. But now he must if he is to be able to act on the insights he achieved in “Desert Island Disk,” “Present Tense,” and “The Numbers.” He has succeeded in opening himself; now he has to confront the behaviors that lurk inside and seek to destroy him.