Monday, August 7

Album Review: Thom Yorke

"The Eraser"
XL; 2006

I really don’t want to review this album. It’s not that I don’t have the time to sit down at my computer and type it all up, it’s not that I’m short on things to say (in fact quite the opposite—my most recent album reviews have needed some cropping, I admit), it’s not that I haven’t listened to the album enough (because, uh, I have), and it’s not that my ridiculous worship of Thom Yorke and everything he is intimidates me. To be honest, I don’t want to write this review because I want “The Eraser” to be one of those albums that I can pick up every once in a while, give it a spin, enjoy it in a casual sort of way, and let it sit for a few weeks or months or however long until the mood strikes me again. You know, kind of like Joanna Newsom’s “The Milk-Eyed Mender” or “I Am A Bird Now” by Antony & the Johnsons. But I know this is futile, as eventually my wandering mind will stray into analysis, only to leave me with a neat little list of what I like and don’t like on the album. So I figure, better get it over with now.

“The Eraser” is everything you would expect a Thom Yorke solo album to be: somber vocals, frustrated lyrics, a wash of synthesizers, plenty of interesting effects, etc. This is one of the real problems with the album, however. Thom Yorke has, at this point, become an icon of transition, to the extent that his listeners expect the unexpected from him. “The Eraser” yields just the opposite: it’s totally expected. That’s not to say it’s not a very good album, because that would be lying. We must not forget that we should not (and are not meant to) view this album in the frame of Radiohead. For most fans, this is a nearly impossible task, but the truth is that “The Eraser” is a much more enjoyable listen when you’re not thinking about your favorite “Kid A” tracks.

Observed in the best Radiohead-free vacuum I can muster, “The Eraser” is home to some really brilliant music. While the blippity-bloop production does get a little tiresome as it spans the entire album, most of it acts as an effective enough background for Thom Yorke’s otherworldly melodic concoctions. The album-opening title track, after working through somewhat melodramatic verses, gives way to a sublime chorus, Yorke’s backup harmonies giving that track a sort of desperate life as Yorke sings, “The more you try to erase me / the more that I appear / the more you try the erasers / the more that you’ll appear.” The loops of “The Clock” interlock perfectly with Yorke’s vocal performance, especially his humming parts during the bridge. “Black Swan” is the album’s best track, an electric guitar offering welcome respite from the albums almost entirely electronic instrumentation while Yorke sings a simple but, for some reason, undeniably memorable chorus of, “This is fucked up / fucked up.” “Harrowdown Hill” is another standout, Yorke’s signature paranoia taking life in the line, “We think the same things at the same time / we just can’t do anything about / so don’t ask me / ask the ministry.”

Yorke does slip up a couple times, mostly on the tracks “Skip Divided” and “Atoms for Peace”. The former is a quiet bluesy number, and while the vocal melody is enjoyable enough, it’s about two minutes longer than it needs to be. The latter’s bubbling bassline simply seems out of place on the album, jarring the listener out of Yorke’s sad beauty into what seems like contrived and unwelcome child-like security.

And now, out of the vacuum. As so many other critics have noted, one of the most important things this album has to offer is a new perspective on Radiohead as a band. Fans can now see firsthand exactly what Yorke brings to the band, and why his bandmates are so important. In this light, the unique melodies and musical sensibilities Yorke brings to Radiohead are just as important as the energy and innovation bolstered by the other four. To put it simply, Yorke’s solo album shows that Radiohead is not, in fact, the Thom Yorke Show, but instead a much more balanced and complicated entity that most of us had previously imagined. “The Eraser” isn’t as good as your Radiohead albums (except maybe “Pablo Honey”, but that kind of goes without saying). And that’s okay, because it shouldn’t be. It should be an honest, low-profile, solid release from one of generation’s greatest minds. And it is.

When it all boils down, the only thing that makes this album less than great is that Thom Yorke, as the frontman of Radiohead, has become someone that cannot be listened to casually and whose creative output cannot be taken lightly. For those of you with enough willpower, I suggest to you this: don’t overanalyze this album. The fact that you’re reading this means your probably too late. But if you can continue to see “The Eraser” as an album that’s cool to put on every now and then, you’ve got a nice little gem in your record collection.

Thom Yorke - Black Swan
Thom Yorke - The Clock

Also, be sure to check out Thom Yorke performing a killer version of "The Clock" live on the Henry Rollins Show here.

- Dominick Duhamel -

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At 10:27 PM , Anonymous Ali Youngblood said...

You write beautifully. I enjoyed your reviews very much. You're quite talented. Just thought you'd appreciate an honest opinion.
Long time no see.


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