Saturday, July 15, 2006

CD Review: The Eraser by Thom Yorke

Radiohead's last few albums, Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail To The Thief, have seen them become less of a rock band and more of an electronic/rock hybrid. It makes sense, then, that lead singer Thom Yorke's solo debut, The Eraser, is just about a full-on electronic album. Produced by longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, The Eraser is not as good as Radiohead's best work but it's a solid album nonetheless.

The Eraser opens with the title track, a song that features piano work by Jonny Greenwood, the only other member of Radiohead to release a solo album. Those piano chords anchor the song as electronic elements flitter in and out. Another constant is Thom Yorke's voice, sounding free of distortion and other studio tricks. His instantly recognizable voice is as effective as ever during the chorus of the song as he sings “The more you try to erase me/The more/The more I cling to you.” Towards the end of the song, we even get a brief moment of a capella, something that's quite a contrast to the opening songs on Radiohead's last three albums where music and/or distortion overshadowed Thom's vocals.

While piano and electronic elements intertwine on both “The Eraser” and the track that follows it, “Analyse,” “The Clock” brings us the first sounds of guitar. This fast-paced track has a nice intensity to it that makes it instantly enjoyable. Again, Thom's voice sounds very nice here from the refrain of “Time is running out” to the ooohs that pop up towards the end.

While the album certainly sounds good musically, there are some interesting things going on lyrically as well. The chorus of “Black Swan” is incredibly catchy despite the fact that it pretty much consists of “...fucked up/Fucked up.” “And It Rained All Night” has a stretch that's a barrage of adjectives: “It's relentless/Invisible/Indefatigable/Indisputable/Undeniable/But how come it looks so beautiful.” But the standout track lyrically has to be “Harrowdown Hill.”

“Harrowdown Hill” is inspired by the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly and named for the place where his body was found. Over one of the colder sounding beats on the album, Thom seems to sing from the point of view of the late Dr. Kelly. Anger and bitterness dominate this song from the opening lines: “Don't walk the plank like I did/You will be dispensed with/When you've become/Inconvenient.” The song also addresses the lingering questions surrounding his death such as whether or not it was suicide (“Did I fall or was I pushed?”) and the seeming lack of blood at the scene (“And where's the blood?”). Thom alternates his vocals between haunting detachment and impassioned plea and combined with the lyrics, it creates a powerful song that is one of the best on the album.

The Eraser is a solid album from start to finish and is the perfect stopgap until a new Radiohead album likely appears sometime next year. Even though it's not up to the level of Radiohead's best work, it's actually a more cohesive effort than the band's 2003 album Hail To The Thief. This album doesn't strive to be “art” in the way that Radiohead albums do and that is both its biggest strength and weakness. The layers of depth that can keep fans listening to an album for months before they really start to “get it” aren't really present on The Eraser. That sometimes gives it a feeling that something is missing. At the same time, everything about this album is good enough to the point that you can just blissfully ignore whatever it may be missing.

Thom Yorke will be performing two songs from The Eraser (including one accompanied by Jonny Greenwood and Nigel Godrich) on IFC's The Henry Rollins Show on Saturday July 15th at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT with a rerun on Thursday July 20th at 11 pm ET/8 pm PT. One of the performances can already be seen online at IFC's website.

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