Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thom Yorke: The Eraser
Out: 09/07/2006
Label: XL Recordings
It can't be easy being Thom Yorke. If you can strip away the obvious benefits of being a 'rock star', and the massive assumptions most people make about what this entails, then famous people are essentially just like everyone else. Success and money do not automatically equal happiness or fulfillment, or even satisfaction and comfort.

Take into consideration the myriad complexities that public life can create if you allow it to do so. In the case of Radiohead, and even more so with Yorke specifically, there are all sorts of issues that arise from being in the public eye. Attempts to use bands to create political capital are well documented throughout the past few decades, as are Radiohead's responses: they refused to meet with Tony Blair (he has 'no environtmental credentials') whilst agreeing to meet with Gordon Brown; they released a press statement denying suggested links between a request for 'Fake Plastic Trees' by Tory hopeful David Cameron and its appearance in a subsequent setlist; they've been criticised politically both for doing an unbranded, independent 'big top' tour and then a few years later agreeing to headline V, the most anodyne, corporate festival of them all. For Thom Yorke, it isn't as simple as happily trotting up to Number 10, Noel Gallagher style. Because, if you look for them, there are strings everywhere: tripwires, traps, manipulation, conspiracy, hypocrisy and injustice. It could almost be that Radiohead (a name suggested by EMI back when they were still a high school band called On a Friday) really are tuned in to having the potential ramifications of everything they do beamed directly into the brain.

So nobody expected Thom Yorke's first solo album to be a basket of roses. This album has a pervasive nervousness and tension throughout; a taut mass of tick-tock waiting-room-clock beats, scratchy guitar parts and uptight synth. The opener and title track is a softly issued threat, or a statement of intent, "The more you try to erase me, the clearer I appear" echoing the (similarly disenfranchised) Morrissey line "the more you ignore me the closer I get". From a hissy piano loop beginning, it spreads into a deceptively soft chorus cushioned with ten-deep reverbed vocals, then dissolves slowly into distorted synth and gentle howls.

This is an album that's at its best when the hooks come to the fore. 'Black Swan''s scrawny picked guitar and clicky beat is both indelibly catchy and quietly brooding, 'Harrowdown Hill' (a timely sideways glance at the death of Dr David Kelly) builds into a cold, menacing and lonely conspiracy tale ("don't walk the plank like I did - you'll be dispensed with"), and 'Atoms For Peace' contains rare moments of optimism ("no more talking about the old days - it's time for something great"). While these high points are probably worth buying this album for alone, it's a bit of a shame that some of the other tracks aren't quite in the same league. But with Thom Yorke's singing voice as the centrepiece of the album, from mumbled semi-coherent rants and mantras to his soaring falsetto, even a song that doesn't sound entirely memorable is worth listening to.

So, while The Eraser might not be a genre-busting classic like Kid A or OK Computer it's a good, solid record nonetheless - even if many people might find that the skip button gets used just that little bit too often for it to be the masterpiece they may have been hoping for.

Rating: 7
Words: John Brainlove

Thom Yorke: Harrowdown Hill
Out: 21/08/2006
Label: XL Recordings
It’s singles like this that have the listener longing for the immediate return of Top Of The Pops - to see Thom Yorke twitching his way from left to right across a BBC studio stage before a gaggle of bewildered teenagers waiting for BoyBandX to deliver their sole key change would be a wondrous thing.

With an immediate bassline that’d sit prettily in a composition by The Rapture, it’s entirely likely that ‘Harrowdown Hill’ would make the TOTP cut, slipping onto Sunday night television screens between a slew of sound-alike production-line poppers. The subject matter’s already well-documented – Dr David Kelly winding up dead on the titular hill – but what album reviews may have failed to mention is just how good Yorke’s bouncing beats actually are; how effectively they have the first-timer following the singer’s lead, jerking arms and legs and losing themselves, entirely, in four minutes of solo work that stand up well against anything that ‘R’ band has ever penned.

Little on parent album The Eraser, though, is of a quality comparable to ‘Harrowdown Hill’, so don’t expect too many further singles to follow in its wake. Instead, assume Yorke’s got ‘R’ matters on his mind when he sings “We think the same things at the same time”; it surely goes without saying that his audience at large is rabidly expectant, quite probably palpitating come each and every update on the recording of said band’s seventh studio album.

Still, it would have been a rare treat to see the guy dance, as if possessed by playful spirits, while viewers simultaneously tucked greedily into their roasts.

Rating: 8
Words: Mike Diver

Thom Yorke: Analyse
Out: 06/11/2006
Label: XL Recordings
Quite how Thom Yorke maintains such a fantastic level of quality with his output, both as a fifth of Radiohead and when releasing fuzzing and buzzing electronica records under his solo banner, is wonderfully perplexing. Surely, someday soon, the man will slip and unleash upon the world a record so disappointingly disparate from what’s preceded it – not a single toe trailing waters past – that fans long-term and fleeting will join arms and ignore his misfiring melancholy musings.

It could have happened with The Eraser, easily; crossed arms and turned-away faces unresponsive to the man’s Warp-indebted arrangements. That it didn’t is because of songs like this – ‘Analyse’, said album’s second track and the second single from it, is a majestic four minutes-ish of sprinkled electro' percussion and carefully and gracefully attended-to keys. It’s both immediate and distant, warmly human and coldly alien. It’s Radiohead stripped of the sometimes-distracting bombast, Yorke’s voice allowed the freedom to soar and tumble without nerve-shredding guitars diverting ears away from its still-incredible impact.

Expect a few copies of The Eraser to find their way into Christmas stockings as a direct result of the release of this single – it’s a soul-stirrer, a brain-tingling exercise in aural exploration that marks its maker out as the maverick he’s rightfully recognised as. Well, by all people except the Mercury judging panel, perhaps. When they recognise consistency over single-record success, rest assured that Thom’ll be first in line to leave his trophy on stage, a beaming but fake smile on his know-better face.

Rating: 8
Words: Mike Diver


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