First Click: Radiohead's new album is the first I won't own, and that's okay

May 12th, 2016


I woke up this Monday morning in a hotel in China, excited and ready to buy the new Radiohead album. I wouldn’t say I listen to Radiohead a ton these days, but if I had to make a gun-to-my-head choice for My Favorite Band, they’d be as good a pick as any. I’ve followed them ever since getting into OK Computer a few months before Kid A came out, and I feel like I’ve grown alongside them. I always figured I would buy every new Radiohead record the second it was released.

Except, well, this time I didn’t have to. It turned out that A Moon Shaped Pool was available on Apple Music, Google Play, and Tidal right from the start, meaning all I had to do was download it onto my Nexus 6 ready for the flight a few hours later. And what surprised me is how completely cool I was with this.

Partly because of nostalgia and partly because of unorthodox release strategies, I can remember exactly where I was when I bought each Radiohead album. I borrowed one English pound from my friend Jody so that I’d have enough to buy Kid A after school. I rushed out from my summer job at a bakery to pick up the special fold-out map version of Hail to the Thief on my lunch break. I downloaded and listened to In Rainbows on a university computer because my iBook G4 was dying.

I would have been totally happy to involve my bank account in a similar story for A Moon Shaped Pool. And if there’s a major rock band in the world that could pull a Taylor Swift and demand actual money for its new album, it’d be Radiohead. But I didn't pay anything more for A Moon Shaped Pool, and I don’t think I ever will. The only point of friction for me was having to double-check that Apple Music still works in China, after iTunes Movies and the iBookstore were taken down last month. (It does.) Almost all of my music listening is done through streaming now, and it was a pleasant surprise to me — given Thom Yorke’s well-documented aversion — that Radiohead got on board.

From pay-what-you-want pricing models to stealth releases on BitTorrent, Radiohead’s members have consistently pushed the boundaries of how to distribute music throughout the past decade. The difference between then and now, however, is that the most accessible and consumer-friendly way to pay for music today is also the cheapest. I thought I might feel some pangs of regret over not owning a Radiohead album, but really, I’m just happy that I can listen to it the same way I listen to everything else.

My memories of discovering the mesmerizingly gorgeous A Moon Shaped Pool on a bumpy, boneshaking bus ride through rural China will hold up just as well as my memory of buying Pablo Honey in a sale for the sake of completion. And I can't wait to find out exactly how I’ll end up listening to Radiohead’s next.

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Mildly unsettling Thom Yorke of the day

A video posted by Radiohead (@radiohead) on

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