Review Summary: Radiohead frontman delivers a three track EP to back up his debut, The Eraser's, first single. The single is a superb mix of dancy bass, jittery drums and creepy political lyrics dealing with David Kelly's suicide. The B-sides however fall flat.February, 2003
During a conversation with David Broucher, a British ambassador, David Kelly, a British scientist and biological weapons expert, was asked what would happen if Iraq were invaded. Kelly responded “I will probably be found dead in the woods.”
Harrowdown Hill was released as the second single off of Thom Yorke’s debut album, The Eraser
in August 2006. The Harrowdown Hill single contained two B-Sides in the form of The Drunkk Machine
. All three songs, like the rest of Thom Yorke’s solo songs, are heavily electronic. This sound sees Yorke’s voice weave in and out of Lap Top created beats with synth chords and bass riffs filling in the holes. Unlike Yorke’s previous band, Radiohead, the electronics aren’t very smooth and could hardly be called pretty. Deliberate glitches and frantic drum beats keep it this way.
David Kelly is blamed for The 45 minute claim scandal, the Blair government claimed that Kelly talked with a journalist, the BBC's Andrew Gilligan, about the British government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, and inadvertently caused a major political scandal. Kelly insists he isn’t Gilligan’s only source.
The EP’s last track, Jetstream
is easily its darkest. The beat is very minimalistic; it begins with nothing more than a lot of low clicking played at breakneck speed. After a short amount of time, a sort a beat box sounding noise comes in, taking the role of snare drum. Adding to the sort of dark, simple feel is the main source of melody, a very low, very dreary synthesizer progression. Other than an occasional muffled bass arpeggio and some strange electronic sound effects, this is what supports Yorke’s shady mumbling of lyrics. Oddly enough, Yorke is lyrically at the worst I’ve heard him since Radiohead’s Pablo Honey on this song. His usual creepy one liners are replaced with almost-lame lyrics like you're beautiful/until I get close/you have the eyes of a mountain goat
. Vocally, Yorke isn’t up to par as well. Not so much singing as he is talking in an abnormal voice, Thom’s vocals on Jetstream aren't even close to his Radiohead vocals, or even the vocals to the rest of the EP. A peculiarly unsatisfying song. It reminds you why B-Sides are kept off of the album.
David Kelly leaves his home for a walk. Like usual. This particular walk took him to wooded area known as Harrowdown Hill . The next morning he is found dead of an apparent “suicide”. His ulnar artery had been cut and he had a taken a large amount of pills prior to death. Iraq had been invaded only a few months earlier.
The Drunkk Machine
begins with dank sound effects and a dreary synth arpeggio. The melody doesn’t change for quite sometime, in fact the same synth line is looped until about the halfway point, where all of the music is wiped out except for a sort of vacuum like whooshing. After this midpoint/chorus, the same synth lick and beat is joined by a very dry guitar riff. Holding all of this up is a very electronic beat, obviously created entirely by laptop. Comprised of slicing noises intertwining with bass hits and an almost hand percussion esque noise, The Drunkk Machine contains possibly the densest of the three beats on the Harrowdown Hill EP. Thom singing is sort of a combination of Jetstreams’s mumbling and that of his usual Radiohead style. The Drunkk Machine is another example of how even your favorite artists can create just alright songs. The song is interesting enough but the lyrics aren’t great (not bad per say, but not up to Yorke’s previously set standards) and the song has a sort of head ache inducing quality to it.
It’s rare that a single’s actual single isn’t the best track. Harrowdown Hill, in this way, isn’t rare. Harrowdown Hill
is probably the only track on the EP that competes with Yorke’s other works. Probably the best track on his solo debut, Harrowdown Hill was an excellent choice from a single. The Bass driven beat provides a very danceable atmosphere, despite the song’s very serious lyrics. Besides Bass and Drums the song features a very airy keyboard line, which sort of flows atop the skittery high-hat/snare combo of a beat. In addition to the rather stellar production, Yorke’s voice is at its best on the single. His usual sort of high, sort of low almost-yodel is in full effect on the track. What he sings is the highlight of the song and the focus of the review. His lyrics tell the story of David Kelly and his supposed suicide. When Yorke sings Did I fall or was I pushed" Did I fall or was I pushed" And where’s the blood" And where’s the blood"
the song reaches sort of a creepy apex. He sings suicidal thoughts like I can't take their pressure/ No one cares if you live or die/They just want me gone/They want me gone
in such a happy way it becomes creepy. Despite the song being Thom Yorke citing it as “the angriest song I’ve ever written” the song’s chorus almost sounds like it could be an 80’s pop song a la Janet Jackson or Paula Abdul. All in all, a fantastic song to start off a mediocre EP.
July, 2003 – Present
Although suicide was accepted as the cause of David Kelly’s death, certain medical experts have raised doubts; they suggest that certain evidence rules out suicide as a possibility. Dave Bartlett and Vanessa Hunt, the two doctors, called to Harrowdown Hill, have gone public with their view that there was not enough blood at the location to justify the belief that Kelly died from blood loss. The only blood uncovered amounted to a small fraction of the pints that would have been necessary for Kelly to have died from blood loss. Other theories say that the amount of co-proxamol (the pill Kelly took) was only a third of the amount that would be fatal.