Thursday, November 30, 2006

2006 July 13 | The Big Takeover

Thom Yorke - The Eraser (XL)
by Suzanne Baran
13 July 2006

In his newly released solo album, The Eraser, RADIOHEAD frontman THOM YORKE leads the listener down a gloomy path. He makes us think and struggle with ugly conclusions drawn from life.
Yorke hones in on his greatest skill—his use of his voice as an instrument. It is effective alone or with beats, and provides a very lucid interpretation of the content and tone of his songs—little is obscured here.
The LP is chock full of Yorke expressing distress about environmental issues—the title song references the inescapable voracity of the rising tides. The cover art features a King Canute figurine attempting to ward off a colossal wave.
Yorke makes waves of his own while fending off others. The title track deals with obliterating “truths,” perhaps the ones we find the most painful to bear—such as why we are involved in the war in Iraq.
Songs like “Atoms for Peace” (named after an old speech title of President DWIGHT EISENHOWER) struggle with finding sense in chaos: “No more talk about the old days / It’s time for something great.”
In “Harrowdown Hill,” a song that Yorke has spoken of as his most angry one on the album, he sings, “Don’t ask me / Ask the Ministry.” Harrowdown Hill, in Oxfordshire, England, is where the dead body of Dr. DAVID KELLY was found. Kelly was an employee of the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MoD); as an expert in biological warfare, his work included a stint as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. His discussions with a journalist about the British government’s records on weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.) in Iraq indirectly ignited a significant political scandal. Kelly was found dead days after he appeared before a Parliamentary committee investigating the matter.
The Hutton Inquiry conducted a public investigation into his death and determined that he killed himself. But the song poses its own question about Kelly’s fate: “Did I fall or was I pushed?” Kelly was thought to have evidence that called into question the belief that SADAAM HUSSEIN had possession of W.M.D. By dispensing with Kelly and his evidence, the U.K. would have been able to secure the authorization needed to join in the invasion of Iraq.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Yorke said that “the government and the Ministry of Defense… were directly responsible for outing him and that put him in a position of unbearable pressure that he couldn’t deal with, and they knew they were doing it and what it would do to him. I’ve been feeling really uncomfortable about that song lately, because it was a personal tragedy, and Dr. Kelly has a family who are still grieving. But I also felt that not to write it would perhaps have been worse.”
For me, this album stands as testimonial to a songwriter who is willing to openly talk about tragic events that lead him to question the viability of his government’s involvement in this awful war. Yorke knows that he will sell tons of albums based on his name alone, yet he chooses to infuse his work with a level of integrity in order to inspire his listeners to address the issues of the world-at-large. Music is not always the best venue for espousing or denigrating political ideals, but wouldn’t it be refreshing if more artists as popular and influential as Yorke is would put their personal pain aside and write about issues that address the collective struggles of people throughout the world?


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