Review Summary: Thom Yorke’s reach exceeds his grasp.
Among news of a new Radiohead album after almost four years, the sudden release of a solo album by lead singer Thom Yorke is a strange move, though not especially surprising. The Radiohead frontman has maintained an enigmatic public image, though his artistic expression is rarely vague. His preferred musical style is made apparent on 2006’s The Eraser
, which not surprisingly echoed many aspects of Radiohead’s more experimental releases. While normally an asset, in this case it shows a disappointing lack of variety or diversity. His debut was a downtempo electronic affair sadly lacking in the rest of Radiohead’s contributions, and Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
suffers from the same noticeable absence. Greenwood and O’Brien have always had the uncanny ability to elevate most songs in one way or another, with as little as a simple creative flourish. Yorke possesses the same potential, though he remains stubbornly committed to a very singular and monotonous vision. Repetitive, dismal electronics and repetitive beats throughout …Boxes
lack the intrigue of what could have been.
was released eight years ago, and while the main ideas present haven’t changed, almost everything else has. The general sound of …Boxes
can best be described as a more subtle and minimalist version of Radiohead’s The King of Limbs
. The atmosphere is surprisingly similar, and Yorke seems to have dipped into Radiohead outings Amnesiac
(2001) and Hail to the Thief
(2003) for inspiration. Unfortunately, the bulk of …Boxes
more closely resembles their filler than it does the musical highs. An absence of hooks or catchy melodies is a bold decision for an artist to make when crafting an album, and it should contain some strong material to warrant such creative decisions. Yorke’s latest unfortunately does not hold up in that regard, with an absence of memorable moments and lack of standouts being the main detractors of the surprise release that could have had the potential to wow his loyal audience.
Mildly intriguing uses of instrumentation, as well as programming techniques throughout the album do not develop as much as they should. “Pink Section” and “Interference” each contain interesting ideas, but simply aren’t as interesting as they should be. Along with these missed opportunities, a mind-boggling track ordering decision further mars what could have been. The two most repetitive songs are right next to each other; “Truth Ray” and “There Is No Ice (For My Drink)” begin the second half of …Boxes
by killing whatever momentum had been built up thus far. Both are different enough from one another, but each plod along in similar bleeps and bloops as Radiohead’s most experimental and inaccessible interludes. If their compositions had been further developed, they could have had the potential to blossom into the gratifying weirdness that Yorke seems to be aiming for, but what the execution presents us with just isn’t enough.
For all of its faults though, …Boxes
features a variety of mildly interesting ideas throughout the short run time. “Nose Grows Some” is probably the most emotive song of Yorke’s solo material, bringing to mind Radiohead’s eeriest moments. “A Brain In A Bottle” and the “The Mother Lode” also possess enough mysterious and engaging moments to warrant checking out. Much of the run time overall is devoted to hypnotic melodies over impressive displays of Yorke’s vocal range, including soaring falsettos, and thus responsible for the more rewarding moments. However this simply isn’t enough, and the almost nonexistent evolution serves as a reminder that there is still plenty for Yorke to cover in his musical future beyond the repetitive beats and droning electronics seen here. While Yorke’s vision remains as clear as ever, his execution leaves a lot to be desired. What results is mildly intriguing but mostly underwhelming, leaving the listener lost in a confusing sea of murky, fuzzy atmospheres. Substance is present in album highlights, but there is not enough to redeem the duller moments that pervade much of the content within …Boxes