Thom Yorke was once an enigma to me. He has a mythical persona, eternally eccentric, moody and creative. Before I saw Radiohead live in New Orleans, I imagined him as the man we saw in Meeting People is Easy—a hyper-sensitive paranoid, vegan artist who stays up late writing post modern, cut-up style haiku while listening to old school techno and Charles Mingus. But after seeing how warm and animated he is alive on stage, I realized that the Thom Yorke the singer/songwriting/artist is not the same as the man behind his Stanley Donwood inspired mask. All too often, we tend to confuse artists with their lyrical persona.
After experiencing Thom Yorke and Radiohead in concert, however, I had more respect and adoration for them as artists. I think some of us take for granted what it takes to make a Radiohead record. Much of the attention is directed toward Yorke, but after seeing them perform, you realize how much Radiohead is a collective entity and not a totalitarian machine. This may be why Yorke has gone off and made an entirely different sort of record. We’ve heard shades of this on Kid A, which now we know was Thom’s idea of challenging his band mates to recreate the idea of a Radiohead song. It demands you, the listener, to throw out any preconceptions you may have had about the band and live inside the electronic intimacy of the moment that it was.
If you loved Kid A like I did, then you will likewise adore The Eraser. You can forget about any type of OK Computer sound on this album. Make no bones about it, amigos; The Eraser is Thom’s baby. It’s reminiscent of the noisy, odd and cerebrally-induced beats of early Warp Records releases from Aphex Twin’s alias Polygon Window and Autechre. The musical theme which started on Kid A has now expanded on The Eraser, finding Thom Yorke mixing organic instrumentation and soulful lyrics with analog techno sounds. It works from the opening and title track—starting with organic piano chords being looped over electronic back beats with Thom’s aching vocals as he sings, “please excuse me but I got to ask, are you only being nice because you want something?” The piano combined with Thom’s voice bring a humanistic element that can sometimes missing in the rhythms of electronic music.
Yorke’s honest lyrical touches like “The more you erase me/the more I appear” are what make The Eraser more than just a solo excursion in analog and techno culture. “It gets you down…there’s no time to analyse” go lyrics to my favorite track on the album, “Analyse.” This may be Thom’s message to critics and fans not to decipher every little thing he sings and writes. It’s the most soulful and cinematic song on the record, and there is so much going on thanks to help from frequent Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. It’s an elegant symphony of noise and brilliance.
“The Black Swan” is another standout, employing a very cool, low, bluesy guitar riff looped with a trip-hop beat. It sounds like a close cousin to Amnesiac‘s “I Might Be Wrong.” And Thom’s haunting, scat-like background vocals, paired with the lyrics, “this is your blind spot, it should be obvious…this is fucked up,” make this track a memorable highlight. “Harrowdown Hill” begins with a killer bass riff along with an “Idioteque”-like beat. And with lyrics like “I’m coming home… to make it all right/so dry your eyes/ we think the same things and at the same time/ we just can’t do anything about it,” this could have ended up such a sad song, but in Thom Yorke’s world this, comes out as an upbeat track with haunting rhythms.
Those expecting The Eraser to be made up of more of the traditional OK Computer-like anthems have come to the wrong place. But those in search of a journey inside the eclectic and electronic inspired mind of Thom Yorke will find the journey rewarding. I would venture to guess even Richard D. James is proud that his Warp Records cohorts can inspire one of our generation’s greatest singer/songwriters to create a soundtrack to the modern age with soulful melodies, and memories that will resonate with the listener long after the song fades.
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