The Smile
Wall of Eyes


2.5
average

Review

by bad metal is still metal USER (7 Reviews)
February 12th, 2024 | 19 replies


Release Date: 01/26/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A whimper…

Thom Yorke is old now. So is Jonny Greenwood. They were once part of a very famous and influential rock band, but their glory years are slipping behind them. The Smile is their geezer project – an outlet for their creative juices that will not tarnish the name “Radiohead” with middling old man shit. Wall of Eyes is not yet that, despite straying uncomfortably near the edge, but I cannot shake my sense of unease I have felt over this record since its release in January. This weed of a feeling festered in me, before cracking through into my psyche once I revisited In Rainbows, an album that breathes every second of its runtime despite likewise forgoing typical songwriting conventions. In comparison, Wall of Eyes is a plank of wood, rigid and functional yet entirely dead.

*sigh*

Okay, this is the part of the review where I need to forgo reviewer omniscience and admit that I am incapable of viewing this album outside of Radiohead’s colossal shadow. Is that unfair? Maybe, but that’s what happens once an artist begins showing the gracelessness of aging and their achievements begin to fade into history. Not to say that the shadow does not affect the artist either, but that it certainly should not be considered unfair that it stands over the artist. Radiohead is what Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood did with their lives, and they can only add to that legacy, not rewrite it. And, to their credit, they seem to understand this. Wall of Eyes is a paranoid journey through delicate soundscapes that has all the little details to keep Radiohead fans occupied for the next two/three/ten years. It’s lush and thoughtful and, occasionally, brilliant. So what is nagging at me?

My unfortunate impression is that The Smile’s identity is almost… tacky? Music crafted specifically to demand multiple listens risks coming off as pretentious and arrogant, but Radiohead always earned their experimentation, and there isn’t anything particularly egregious about how The Smile indulge themselves here – except that I do not believe they are doing it for themselves. Instead, my impression of Wall of Eyes is that it is a musical judo move, a slight of hand constructed from all the conventions of experimental rock music to distract a rabid fanbase for a few more years. Every detail is placed specifically to enrich the music, yet the final result left me bloated and gassy: Radioheadcore delivered in a McDonalds’ wrapper.

As such it is befitting that The Smile chose paranoia as the thematic backdrop for Wall of Eyes. What better mood to convince the masses that something is there than by pursuing the wrought distortions of aggrandised, aggravated nothingness? From the meandering slog of the t/t to the final moments of “You Know Me!”, the amount of empty space here is deeply disappointing, instead of disconcerting. Yorke’s lyricism only furthers this complaint. Vague conceptual exploration can unlock depths of creativity within the listener, but dammit if some more specific ideas would help me enjoy Wall of Eyes more. Empty ideas sold as empty ideas do not become full by their self-awareness alone, a theme best exemplified by the hackneyed conclusion to “Under Our Pillows”, an alarmingly predictable crescendo of white noise that cuts into equally predictable silence. Sure, dissecting the melange of sounds crammed into the ever-loveable wall-of-noise will keep you occupied, but are you entertained or being had? Is the product, even if dense and complex and thoughtful, actually any of these qualities or just a mirage to keep you trodding through the desert? It is difficult not to interpret every decision as being made deliberately and obviously in pursuit of the aesthetics of experimentation, resulting in an album that is really just Radiohead from a vending machine.

Still, even if Wall of Eyes is not hydrating, there is some fun to be had. “Teleharmonic” supersedes the plodding opener and gracefully flies by (the only song here that is both enjoyable and quick by my measure), “Read the Room,” *ahem*, “borrows” a Blonde Redhead riff to positive results, and “Bending Heretic” is genuinely essential, building a far more memorable crescendo from the pieces of “Under Our Pillows.” Finally, Tom Skinner is a spectacular drummer, and what stunning moments hide amongst these amblings are carried by his subtle, immutable presence. Unfortunately, Wall of Eyes is foremost an album for the Radiohead fan who has memorized every moment of their discography. The fun only really begins around spin 6 or 7, as the music is simply too dense to dissect immediately, yet this dissection only exposes a moldy foundation of late-career aimlessness trapped within stylistic pinnings bereft of the inspiration or vigor to destabilize, redefine and create. Sure, Pitchfork, Fantano and Radiohead fans like it, it has all the necessary elements to please them, yet Wall of Eyes lacks those seeds of inspiration and artistic differentiation to truly stand on its own. Is it a distraction or the end times? Either way, a disappointment.



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user ratings (181)
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
Sunnyvale STAFF (3.5)
“I quit, my head is lit” - Thom Yorke, 2024...

bighubbabuddha (4)
Don't blink at the Wall Of Eyes, you might miss what it's trying to tell you....



Comments:Add a Comment 
FowlKrietzsche
February 12th 2024


415 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Gonna get flamed for this one, but will it be for being mean about a Thom Yorke project or will it be because I used the F-word?

bigguytoo9
February 12th 2024


1394 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Did not dig this much at all and I will say its the worst project Thom has put his name too in many, many albums.

gabba
February 12th 2024


483 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

As much as I agree with your rating and with the album being mostly flat despite containing minutes of brilliance (bending hectic), I don’t think Thom & Jonny care much about RH fans, to “keep them occupied” (hence the different band name & composition). I’d like to think they use this project to channel their creative energies instead of engaging in the habit of putting out new music because there’s “nothing better to do”. Unfortunately, it looks like the latter happened here.

Demon of the Fall
February 12th 2024


32744 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I like the bold concept behind the review, but as gabba says the whole 'pandering to a fanbase' take is highly speculative, I didn't get that from simply hearing this. I agree with the idea this sounds tired and rehashed to an extent, but the result isn't necessarily a reflection of the intention, if that makes sense

Otherwise really good review. Pos

minor edit: Yorke's name in the second paragraph is a typo ('York'), this isn't repeated

FowlKrietzsche
February 12th 2024


415 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thanks for the kind words y'all!



@gabba, demon



Y'all aren't wrong. I tried to couch my suspicions in weasel words to really reduce it to just being my opinion of the album, but it was a reach of a conclusion. I also didn't explain all the nuance I was trying to get across I think? I don't think its an active decision to keep the fanbase distracted, moreso a passive decision driven by a career seen from the rear-view mirror. Albums like Inlet and Illud Divinum Insanus succeed or fail because of the careers of their respective musicians. I think this is a disappointing project because its a legacy album, built upon pieces of a whole career while never actually justifying itself. It doesn't land on the extreme sides of late-career releases of course, instead interesting me about as much as a late AC/DC album and accomplishing much the same. Seeing Thom and Jonny making something this deliberate yet this boring just got me conspiratorial, and I'm glad y'all enjoyed the review beyond my paranoid fantasies!

gabba
February 12th 2024


483 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Fair enough

And just to be clear, I’m also fine with paranoid fantasies, please bring forth more!

Back to this release: it is unavoidable for musicians such as them not to be viewed through the lens of their past careers in a big-selling band. That’s just how it is. It comes with more attention and possibly, also with harsher reviews, no matter what they do. At least up until a certain point, after which people stop caring. But we still care, and that can come with the price of disappointment.

DoofDoof
February 12th 2024


14483 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

weird low rating circle jerk so far ;P



I think the album is an interesting case study on who in the audience can escape academizing it and actually start enjoying it



not saying it's a bad thing as such but this review is 100% witness that you failed in that...where others succeeded



that's the only takeaway for me, it's one of the most divisive albums in that regard in recent memory, review is well written though

DDDeftoneDDD
February 12th 2024


21983 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Yet they gather in dislikeness

gabba
February 12th 2024


483 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Someone has to be the vulture here, indeed.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2024


59421 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"I think the album is an interesting case study on who in the audience can escape academizing it and actually start enjoying it"

facile distinction - more often than not, good records invite you to pick apart their failings and impress you with how well they hold up when you're done. if a record within your usual wheelhouse (as this seems to be for the op) doesn't survive a critical inspection, there's usually a pretty good reason for it

FowlKrietzsche
February 12th 2024


415 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@gabba I completely agree! Its why I really wanted to talk about this album, I'm not actually that interested in the music here, but how artists react to their success and stylastic trappings is really fascinating to me and I think the music here is VERY reactionary. Other people might feel differently, hell I even think that this is going to take a few years to really settle in the Radio-adjacent canon and my thoughts could well and truly change, but as of its release I really think this is a painfully average record that relies on cliches to feign depth



@doof Fair! Overanalyzing music that is intended to be overanalyzed is one of the reasons I enjoy criticizing music in my free time. That said, I think the reason why this album is different is because Radiohead earned their reputation by releasing music that is joy to overanalyze. Sure, if I escaped my academizing I would probably rate this a little higher, but thats the case with everything and goddammit this is a Thom Yorke project. In fact, I'd even say my disappointment with Wall of Eyes is because the details feel so haphazard and superficial that I can't put much thought into this without killing my enjoyment.



@johnny love u

DoofDoof
February 13th 2024


14483 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Johnny - still pretty sure a lot of people had this marked as homework (to a much bigger degree than other releases) ahead of music when they saw it in the release schedule, I was one of them, some broke through (didn’t look hopeful for me at first)



After three listens I nearly wrote this review but for whatever reason it clicked after subsequent listens in a very purely musical and not academizing way, surprised me a bit did this album. Has flaws hence only a slightly on the weak side 4 out of 5 but I’m pleased it got there.



Probably one of the three or four biggest beneficiaries of being my regular ‘early morning focused listen’ of the week for that week. Gave it that little more time before judgement and a few walks with sunrises to just listen and not think too much about how I felt about it in the grand scheme of things.

DoofDoof
February 13th 2024


14483 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

As Zak said on another chat, this release has seen peak ‘Radiohead fatigue’ - that’s the backdrop of this release, not really hype or anticipation. First three listens I felt smothered by that fatigue in listening to these cunts…but I ended up enjoying it a lot

cylinder
February 14th 2024


2126 Comments


i just want new Radiohead man

gabba
February 14th 2024


483 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Me too, but to quote a classic:

Never gonna get it, never gonna get it

Never gonna get it, never gonna get it

Never gonna get it, never gonna get it

Never gonna get it, never get it

DoofDoof
February 14th 2024


14483 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This album is near enough the style and quality I'd expect from a Radiohead album in 2024, new Radiohead not needed

cylinder
February 14th 2024


2126 Comments


NO Smile

ONLY Radiohead

Brabiz
February 22nd 2024


2142 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

This album is fantastic lmao

zakalwe
February 22nd 2024


38506 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

‘This album is near enough the style and quality I'd expect from a Radiohead album in 2024’



I completely agree mate



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