Thom Yorke – The Eraser

Thom Yorke
The Eraser

Thom Yorke has made it publicly known that he doesn’t want The Eraser to be considered a “solo record.” That works just fine for me, because at this point it seems impossible to separate the man from his work with Radiohead. Usually solo records are released when groups are already broken up or during inactive periods. Radiohead is not breaking up, and even without releasing an album in three years, the band has kept busy touring and working – however slowly – on a follow-up to Hail to the Thief. It only seems logical that a person of Yorke’s stature would eventually want to test his mettle, proving his worth beyond his highly praised band’s catalog.

If you’re an obsessive fan like the rest of us, you’ve probably heard Amnesiac B-sides like “Fog” and “Worrywort.” These two songs are the Radiohead tracks most similar to the material found on The Eraser. While it’s to be expected that Yorke’s album will sound at least somewhat like Radiohead considering that he is the band’s mouthpiece, in actuality the contrasts are quite sharp. In place of Colin Greenwood’s thick bass-lines, Phil Selway’s explosive drumming, and Jonny Greenwood’s acrobatic guitarwork, everything on The Eraser seems subdued in favor of Yorke’s elastic voice. The album doesn’t make the point that Yorke doesn’t need his bandmates to make a great record so much as it helps shed light on what each member of the band contributes to the overall equation. With production work from longtime producer Nigel Godrich, the album establishes an excellent case for Thom to work alone, making an album that resembles Radiohead at its most minimal.

The album’s title track cuts in mid-note on a cluster of broken piano chords underscored by down-tempo beats. His voice quiet as he sings lines like “Please excuse me but I got to ask… are you only being nice because you want something?” For a record of mostly electronic songs, this isn’t the cut-and-spliced Kid A-style vocal delivery of tracks like “Everything in its Right Place” but instead comes off as low-key crooning. On first listen, one keeps waiting for a heavier bass-line to appear or some scrappy guitar chords a la Hail to the Thief‘s “Where I End and You Begin,” but that moments never comes. Continuing in this style, it builds to a chorus of “The more you try to erase me the more that I appear,” aptly summing up the career of a man paranoid of being “erased” by forces beyond his control. Around the 2-minute mark, a phasered piano line swirls back and forth in the right and left channels before electronic blips enter similar to that end part of “Let Down.”

A crackling drum machine kickstarts “Analyse” along with more piano and blipperific electronica. Harkening back to songs like “Pyramid Song” and “Sail to the Moon,” it’s a nice addition to an already lovely album with Yorke lamenting about self-fulfilling endless prophecies and algebra. “The Clock” has a clicking drum beat with echoing vocals reminiscent of Hail to the Thief’s “The Gloaming.” The fourth track, “Black Swan,” is evidently the “single” from the album. This is the most perplexing thing of all, considering that according to the album’s publicity, this is the song that will be serviced to radio stations. It’s also the only song with any expletives, but it’s not just one, every time it comes to the chorus Thom states “This is fucked up, fucked up” about five times. Would someone explain to me how they intend to censor this and leave any part of the song intact?

“Skip Divided” needs its own paragraph for a reason. I keep trying to figure out how it belongs on an otherwise outstanding record. It comes in with some misplaced humming, not of machines but Yorke’s own voice. The skittering static in the background only highlights this track, which ends up sounding like some Peter Gabriel reject. It stands out like a sore thumb. I’ve spoken to several people who seem to love this track, but for me when it comes to the end and Yorke is singing “I’m a dog, I’m a dog, I’m a lapdog, I’m your lapdog,” it really hurt in one of those “I can’t help but feel embarassed for him it’s so bad” ways. The music itself isn’t bad, but the whole song seems built to carry the vocals, which end up dropping the ball big time. The biggest disappointment is that it’s just an average track from a record of otherwise excellent caliber.

Immediately redeeming itself, The Eraser comes back with its greatest moment, “Atoms for Peace.” This one is also built around Yorke’s voice, with only minimal electronic backing. Instead of mucking things up, Thom goes for the highest notes in his vocal range and succeeds in crafting one of the most beautiful tracks on any album this year. “And_it_Rained_All_Night” is interesting because the music seems to literally reflect what is going on in the lyrics. The initial percussion provides a slightly motorik beat over which Yorke sings about clicking train tracks.

The Eraser closes on a high note with back-to-back standouts “Harrowdown Hill” and “Cymbal Rush.” These tracks would have fit comfortably on Kid A and Amnesiac stylistically, even if it would’ve broken the superb continuity of those albums. A sense of dread fills both with the dark qualities found on those early 00’s albums. While the lyrical content shows Thom Yorke at the height of paranoia trying to save his house and his songs from the ever-impending doom of a world in the shadow of fatcats that rule unchecked with pockets filled with blood and oil, the dramatic shift from brighter tones to minor keys and slight discordance couldn’t be more prominent.

Before you know it, the album is already over, leaving you with that empty feeling that comes with knowing that next Radiohead album may be farther off than we originally thought. While Thom Yorke’s The Eraser is an excellent record in its own right, it only solidifies the legacy of Radiohead as a supremely powerful group comprised of five robot lions that only together could form “Voltron.”