Thom Yorke - The Eraser
It's been a good year for music so far. After reviewing the new Muse and TV On The Radio albums I've be blessed with the hat-trick review of another great record of 2006. I may not be able to call it a solo record, but the first individually released record by Thom Yorke is an absolute gem.
Arranged and produced by long time Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich, all the songs were written by Yorke over the past couple of years. However, they've finally been played and recorded this year whilst Yorke got bored during the new Radiohead album sessions. Anyone hoping for something harking back to their simpler days needn't bother listening to this; the electronica and beats approach post-OK Computer rules here but there's something more personal about it. With the "Kid A" / "Amnesiac" / "Hail To The Thief" albums lacking an emotional involvement at most levels, Yorke finally seems to be writing songs that come from his heart; his cares and concerns dominate this album rather than views from another, more lofty perch. Where "The Eraser" succeeds is that it finally gives us access to that place where most people would fear to tread: Thom Yorke's mind.
From the opening piano reverb and delicate beats of the title track there's something opressive and yet captivating about the music and subject matter, in this case seemingly dealing with his identity. The opening line of "Are you only being nice because you want something?" suggesting his distaste for current celebrity culture and it's hangers on. When coupled with the refrain of "The more you try to erase me / the more that I appear" it strongly hints at the way he's been portrayed and filtered by the press, especially with his recent "handling" by the current Labour government.
Then there's "Harrowdown Hill" which is quite possibly the most direct song Yorke has ever written, dealing with the death of the UN Weapons Inspector David Kelly. Taking a more sinister look at events - was it suicide or murder - it's dark, brooding and Yorke's voice has never sounded so delicate. This is all set over the back drop of a whirling synth line and seemingly digitised bass line which draws you into the dark and brooding world that Yorke has created.
"Black Swan" is one of the many highlights - a distant relative to "There, There" from "Hail To The Thief", with it's delicate guitar riff bubbling over the pipping beats with "Everything is fucked up, fucked up" weaved between the music and Yorke's mumblings acting as an additional instrument just off centre. The overall sense of darkness and tension is kept up for the entire album and you're never given a chance to break out.
"The Clock" with its deeply dark and menacing guitar that haunts proceedings until it breaks through as a striking riff right through the middle of the vocals, just slightly fuzzed up so you can't quite concentrate on it. It's all densely produced and gives a feeling of claustrophobia and, as with any great albums, it reveals its true delicacies and layers when listening through headphones, where you can pick out each channel and arrangement clearly.
Whether this will give any clue to where Radiohead are heading next is anyone's guess, but it's good to hear Yorke challenging himself by writing something more direct. There's also a sense that he's become comfortable with this cross over sound of guitars and electronica - the blend has become richer and more even. It may not be the most important electronica album ever released, but there's something impressive about an artist who can try something else, write something different, and do it with such aplomb.