Wednesday, November 29, 2006

2006 June 17 | Washington Post

Feel-Bad Album of the Summer

On The Eraser, Radiohead's Thom Yorke Is Alone, Naturally

Thom Yorke
The Eraser
(XL Recordings)

If misery really does love company, then Thom Yorke never got the memo. Either that or he simply couldn't read it through the cloud of anxiety that seems to have enveloped him during the making of his melancholy new album, The Eraser.

Recorded mostly on Yorke's laptop sans his Radiohead band mates but with longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, The Eraser is a brooding, bereft solo affair on which Yorke really does sound so lonesome he could cry.

As he probably should. Sounding like a less dynamic Radiohead demo from the group's Kid A era of arty electronica, Yorke's bleak, blippy-beepy album cries out for contributions from the other boys in the atmospheric band.

Without that wall-of-sound instrumentation and the band's Technicolor grandeur, The Eraser is interesting yet incomplete - Kid B-minus, if you will.

Yorke's vocals are also presented in a much more natural and naked state than on the typical Radiohead album, with Godrich skipping the processing tricks employed throughout the band's catalogue. Combined with the stark ambient soundscapes, which tend to sound like so much minimalist background music, Yorke's falsetto - normally bent and distorted, a voice with its own effects pedal - is by far the most prominent instrument here. And it sounds more fragile and tenuous than ever. (Think Coldplay's Chris Martin, only not nearly as overwrought.)

Lyrically, Yorke is about the same as he ever was on The Eraser - which is to say frustrated, lonely, anxious and claustrophobic.

A tortured poet with a dystopian, world-weary view, he sings of global problems (war, the environment and such). Sometimes he's obtuse. Sometimes, as in the case of "Harrowdown Hill," he's more direct: The haunting song is about U.N. weapons inspector David Kelly, who committed suicide after having blown the Iraqi-war whistle on Tony Blair. Needless to say, the whole affair did not exactly make Yorke giddy.

Yorke also sings of personal matters, sounding as skeptical as ever in the gorgeous title track, in which he asks: "Are you only being nice because you want something?" On "And It Rained All Night," he bleats obliquely: "It's relentless, invisible, indefatigable, indisputable, undeniable."

In "Black Swan," he's dismissive: "You have tried your best to please everyone / But it just isn't happening." He then goes on to sing about how "messed up" it is, though in more forceful and direct language.

On "Atoms for Peace," he sings: "No more talk about the old days, it's time for something great." Alas, the album isn't. While The Eraser is okay, it's no OK Computer.

"Atoms for Peace" is not a breakup song, though. Indeed, The Eraser does not signal the end of Radiohead, one of contemporary rock's most beloved bands. It's just a temporary diversion, recorded and released while the group goes through the painstaking process of writing and recording its seventh album.

Now that Yorke has stretched his legs, he should run, not walk, back to the warm embrace of his band mates. Strength in numbers and all.

J. Freedom du Lac


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