Review Summary: Thom Yorke's solo record is ok. It's not Radiohead, but until LP 7 comes, why not listen Thom Yorke?
There's an old Andy Dick sketch in which a lucky girl wins a date with the lead singer of Radiohead, Thom Yorke, played by the Dickman himself. The sketch is hysterical if you can find it, and the scene with Thom bowling is priceless, but to the point, in the sketch, Andy Dick parodies the lazy eyed Creep by playing him so completely depressed, he can barely find the energy to do anything. The sad part is, listening to Thom Yorke's records, that's not completely out of the realm of possibility. With Radiohead, Thom has always been a major sufferer of paranoia and the loss of his mind and other such mental diagnoses. Each Radiohead record put out from "The Bends" on chronicles the major issue plaguing Thom at the time of the album's release. The problems range from total robotic hostile takeover of the planet to Thom bitching about doors and plates and other major household items. Disregarding the obvious need for therapy, he has trekked on with Radiohead and has consistently made fabulous records for over ten years now. Following the band's 2003 release "Hail To The Thief", the band reached a period where nothing got done, as what usually happens when a great band tries to one-up themselves. In that period of ineptitude, Yorke quietly began working on his solo material. Teaming up with presently-ex-but-then-current Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Yorke got his tunes written out and the result is the unsurprisingly bleak sounding Eraser
, and without the band behind him, Yorke finally sounds like what he's been singing about all these years: completely and so utterly alone.
For those expecting Yorke's solo material to be a return to his acoustic ballad material, you will be sorely disappointed in The Eraser
. The album could not be farther from the days of "High and Dry" and "How Do You?". The material on The Eraser
is actually very similar to that found on "ComLag", a Japanese only release for Radiohead. On a more mainstream scale, The Eraser
is most like Amnesiac
in that it's completely electronic, frantically paced, and is odder than what might have been expected from the likes of Thom. Yorke's penchant for paranoia is truly matched by his music on his solo record, as there is not one moment on the album that does not contain some pinball beat that pushes hard through however long the song may be. Through this, however, Yorke still maintains his melodic sensibility, and his underrated ability to discover hooks in the strangest places. The stop-go echo piano hook of the title track is hard to get out of one's head. The song immediately presents itself as a catchy tune, particularly behind a breezy beat Godrich lays down, and it stands as a pretty solid track. But as an album opener it also presents a different surprise: Yorke is actually understandable. The milky reverb he favors that drowns out his words on Radiohead albums is stripped, leaving Yorke sounding like an actual man and not some other worldly being. The aloneness really kicks in when you hear Yorke so close, and the delicate tenor he croons with is enough to shake even the most hardened music listeners. His words are always referring to someone (most likely a woman) who has wronged Thom or has played with Yorke's head, in favor of the standard theme of Yorke's walls closing in, adding to this new enigma that is Thom Yorke. All this together present him as a credible solo artist, though it's impossible to think of him without thinking of Radiohead, not like Gwen Stefani and No Doubt. The Eraser
proves Yorke needs Radiohead just as much as they need him. Unfortunately for Yorke, that need is glaring.
Throughout the album, the absence of Jonny Greenwood is extremely conspicuous. Thom's songwriting partner has the ability to take a standard song and make it fantastic, and without him, Yorke has problems standing alone. Most of the tracks on The Eraser
sound irritatingly similar, as though Yorke had one good idea and stretched it for nine tracks. Needless to say, the album runs thin. It sounds as though Yorke is singing different songs over one recycled beat, and all hope of a varied feel is lost at times, such as when you discover that the beat of "The Clock" is mimicked to a T in "Skip Divided". It's a pity, because alone, "The Clock" is actually a pretty good song. Yorke's airy but strikingly accusing tone is set over a darkly folkish hook, though it's buried with electricity. Yorke sneers juicy little gems such as "You throw coins in the wishing well/ For us
", and the song stands out as one of the more enjoyable tracks on The Eraser
. "Skip Divided" on the other hand, does not. "Skip Divided" is so ridiculously over-the-top, it sounds like Yorke is parodying himself. He mumbles lines like " Like a dog, I'm a dog, I'm a dog, I'm a lapdog. I'm your lapdog, yeah"
, psychotically and incredibly annoyingly. It's a shame to see how Yorke can be very good on one track and terrible on another. That's truly where Greenwood's absence is most notable; someone's gotta tell Thom not everything's right. All of The Eraser
is hit or miss, and when the hits happen, they're pretty good. But the misses are so glaringly obvious, it's a miracle they made the album at all.
That's not to say the misses are in large quantity. Because of the sheer amount of repetition, only "Skip Divided" really sucks, but no track truly stands out. There are a couple moments that stand out, but the similar tempo in every
song prevents any real highlights. However, the moments that are unique are what make the most noise. The jumpy falsetto Yorke uses on mid album floater "Atoms For Peace" is quite charming, particularly at the end when he sighs "I want you to get out/ And make it work/ I'll be ok"
. Don't ask me how Thom manages to rhyme work and ok, but he does, and it fits excellently. The song's bumpy 5 note hook is instantly catchy, and though Yorke misses lyrically at times ("Peel all of your layers off, I want to eat your artichoke heart"
is more than a little sexually creepy), the song is a great leave from the lonesomeness Yorke dwells in for the first five songs on the album. It's a breath of fresh air in a lot of dirt, similar to the interestingly Beck-ish "Black Swan", which reintroduces the guitar. The guitar riff here is not exactly standard folk, in fact it's oddly experimental, but it's a grabber. It's one of two moments where guitar pops up in the album, that and the album's single "Harrowdown Hill". Both songs are deep in the synth-pop ocean that Yorke creates, with structureless formats and standard Yorke-isms including "Don't walk the plank like I did/ You will be dispensed with/ When you've become inconvenient"
and "You cannot kickstart a dead horse/ You just crush yourself and walk away"
. They represent the greatest difference in the flat plain that is The Eraser
, and needless to say they are what comes closest to what one can call a "highlight".
Overall The Eraser
is not a bad album. It's not a terrible concept, to put Radiohead over techno beats and immense it in electronica, but Yorke's execution is what feels stale. There are times where The Eraser
is really quite interesting, but most of it glides by. Songs such as "Analyse" and "Cymbal Rush" don't really contribute anything worth remembering, and songs like "And It Rained All Night" are more irritating than anything. However, there are enough moments on The Eraser
that make it worth a spin or two. Thom Yorke may have issues standing alone, but his potential is evident. The ending of that Andy Dick skit I mentioned earlier is really the essence of The Eraser
in a twisted way. Thom receives a cake of some sort, and he carves into it with his hands "I'm So Alone", then slumps over into the cake, too depressed to care he's stuck in there. The point is: Thom alone is kind of uninteresting. He needs his friends to make him the deep and enigmatic frontman everyone knows and loves.
Either that or he really should consider that therapy.
Atoms For Peace