A True Love’s Wait

I first bought a Radiohead album in 2008. It was their The Best of; what a lousy choice! Listening to The Best Of, indeed, gave me an over-joyous feel, too much greatness in one album, yet it also offers a lack of cohesiveness since each song is not designed for those particular transitions. Hold on… am I right? Does the cohesiveness really matter? This questions strike me again when Radiohead released their ninth studio album called A Moon Shaped Pool. When I first downloaded the album, the track order somehow bothers me. They are in alphabetical order; did I incidentally short them my name?

When the music video of “Daydreaming” came out after the release of “Burn the Witch,” one thing that worried me was the weak link between the two songs. At that time, I convinced that Radiohead wouldn’t put the two songs consecutively. Yet, it turns out that the two become the two first songs of the album! “B” then “D.” And, the rest of the songs are also ordered alphabetically. Wether this is intentional or not (is this the reason the change of the title of “Silent Spring” into “The Numbers”?), this perhaps demonstrates Radiohead’s ability to put their songs in whatever order since the list doesn’t really matter. Or, they just intentionally made titles based on the order they want.

Although The Best of may be the worst choice of Radiohead’s album to buy, it offers a lovely song that cannot be found in any of their other studio albums (the song only appears in their 2001’s live EP, I Might Be Wrong): CD 2’s concluding track, “True Love Waits.”

“True Love Waits” was everything that is not Radiohead. It featured acoustic guitar as the sole instrument; it was recorded live (with people’s crowd as background voices); it was Radiohead’s most direct song to talk about love. The song’s lyrics also remains as my most favorite lines that Thom Yorke’s vocal has ever delivered. (“True love waits, in lollipops and crisps” has a special meaning for me.)

When they finally decided to put the song in their latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool, it was perhaps the most surprising fact that I found from the new release. Since the song was first played in 1995, it took more than 20 years for them to finally give the song a proper studio version.

Radiohead is well-known as a patient reviser. In Rainbow’s “Nude” was released as a single in 2008 although the song has appeared in the 1998 documentary Meeting People is Easy. In A Moon Shaped Pool, the number of songs that previously have been introduced, or at least mentioned, increase significantly. The phrase “Burn the Witch” appears in the 2003’s Hail to the Thief album artwork. “Desert Island Disk,” “Ful Stop,” “Identikit,” “The Numbers,” “Present Tense,” and, of course, “True Love Waits.”

A Moon Shaped Pool’s “True Love Waits” reveals how fragile Radiohead can be. The acoustic guitar in the live version is replaced by a simple piano with unusual chords, and the other piano to provide accompanying melodies. These minimalistic tunes are led by the most vulnerable element of the song: Thom’s haunting voice. The song turns to be more melancholy in the studio version. When Thom used to play the song live, there is somehow an uplifting morale that the song brings. Even though the lyrics are painful, it shows hope. In the studio version, they kill this hope.

Rumors said that Thom ended his 23-year relationship last year; a momentum that might make him to finally decide to put the song into an album. If “True Love Waits” is really a story about Thom, we should be able to understand why the song’s atmosphere discloses a vulnerable delivery that is so intense. In “Daydreaming,” there’s a cryptic message hidden at the end of the song. In the music video, Thom, lying in a cramped snow cave, mumbles something that is interpreted as, “Every minute, half of my love.” A depressing howl.

For a long-time Radiohead fan, the release of the studio version of “True Love Waits” might be the best thing that can happen in A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s really a true love’s wait.