A shaky camera zooms in on Thom Yorke, who’s dressed plainly in short sleeves and white shoes. He sort of looks like a ghost, awash in red stage lights, singing and strumming a sad song. A toy-like synth melody, presumably being triggered somewhere just out of frame, zig-zags behind his wails.
The year is 1995, and Radiohead are performing at La Luna, a 60-year-old theater in Brussels. The song is “True Love Waits,” a spare, unreleased ballad that’s not sonically dissimilar from the heart-swelling “Fake Plastic Trees,” which came out earlier that year. But while that Bends single definitively crossed over into the public consciousness—two months later it would appear on the Clueless soundtrack—“True Love Waits” was, at first, passed around like gossip, before eventually shape-shifting into a coveted live staple and an often bootlegged favorite of diehards everywhere. In 2001, an entirely acoustic version recorded in Oslo was released on a live album. And this past weekend, 21 years after the Brussels gig, Radiohead released A Moon Shaped Pool, their ninth full-length album. Its final song is “True Love Waits.”
The studio-recorded version, stretched and slowed to fit in with the record’s sleepy atmosphere, doesn’t sound much like the love song they played in Brussels a couple decades ago. The naked chords are replaced by dreary keys, notes tumbling unevenly like raindrops. True love waits in haunted attics, Thom Yorke has always sung. But now it feels like we’re waiting up there with it—ominous textures creaking like floorboards, melodies flickering like dust caught in a sliver of yellow light. It's not the only song on A Moon Shaped Pool that has existed in various forms over the years, but it's surely the one with the most memories attatched to it.
The track’s resurfacing isn’t a pure catharsis, though. There’s usually something innately disappointing about finally getting what you want. There’s always going to be fans that wish Radiohead had let “True Love Waits” lie, preserved its bare-boned anatomy like a fossilized relic of the English band’s romantic mid-’90s sound. Those fans will be vocal and defensive about which version they prefer, and maybe they'll have a point. But it would be a lot easier to commiserate if the new version wasn’t so arresting in its own right.