True Love Leaves

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  • Radiohead released a live version of “True Love Waits” more than a decade ago — a stunning recording that features a desperate, wailing Thom Yorke begging his lover not to leave him as he all but rips the strings off his acoustic guitar — and ever since it’s been a go-to song for some of my lowest moments.

    As I blast it through my headphones, the catharsis builds and builds, and by the time Thom says at the end, “Thank you everybody, goodnight,” I am healed.

    Yesterday, Radiohead released their ninth record, A Moon Shaped Pool, and “True Love Waits” is the closing track; a studio version surfacing 14 years after that live take, plus years on top of that; the song itself was written in the mid-’90s.

    Part of me hoped “True Love Waits” would be the same 21 years after it was first played live; part of me knew it wouldn’t be, couldn’t be, shouldn’t be.

    It isn’t the same. Much has already been written about the 47-year-old Yorke’s split with the mother of his two children, Rachel Owen, after 23 years, and he sings rather openly about it on the record, even when it’s been recorded backward and slowed down.

    Efil ym fo flaH
    Efil ym fo flaH
    Efil ym fo flaH

    And so that time and that loss informs, too, the new “True Love Waits.” No longer is it a Hail-Mary plea, but a postmortem.

    Lines that seemed almost silly before are crushing now.

    “And true love lives/On lollipops and crisps” is not a sentimental, naively hopeful reminder of times sharing sweet treats or chilling on the couch with a bag of chips and a rom-com, but about what Thom was talking about it in the first place — a child left home alone, surviving only on scraps he’s tall enough to reach around the house.

    Shredding at the strings of a guitar is unnecessary now. Instead, “Please, don’t leave. Don’t leave,” is accompanied by soft, layered pianos, layers that build and build toward a catharsis that never comes.

    “I’m not living, I’m just killing time.”

    As it turns out, there’s no thank you everybody, goodnight this time, just the end of the song and the record, and anything pathetic about the original — she’s totally leaving dude, sorry — has been replaced with the slow, sad, tragic understanding, that she’s already gone.

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