Unhappy accident

Thom Yorke’s unwitting masterpiece
By WILL SPITZ  |  July 12, 2006


RADIOHEADED: The vocal mix puts Yorke’s voice up front, as if he were sitting in your bedroom or in the passenger seat of your car singing at you.
Don’t let the amicable interviews or the delighted dancing fool you. Thom Yorke is upset. Not in a Kurt Cobain I-hate-myself-and-want-to-die sort of way, which is where he seemed headed in the 1999 Radiohead documentary Meeting People Is Easy, but more in the Al Gore global-warming-needs-to-be-dealt-with-now sort of way. Feelings of frustration and a sense of disillusionment fill his first solo effort, The Eraser (XL), explicitly in the lyrics (some of his most straightforward and poignant) and implicitly in the album’s tense, agitated electronica. “Time is running out for us/But you just move the hands upon the clock,” he laments over an itchy, skittering drum machine and beatbox rhythms on “The Clock.”

That Yorke was planning to release a solo album came as something of a surprise to Radiohead heads, who’d been busy gearing up for the band’s spring/summer tour and keeping tabs on their progress on what fansite ateaseweb.com has been calling “LP7,” the follow-up to 2003’s Hail to the Thief. After all, they began work on the disc last year. But in March came the first news of Yorke’s solo venture when Warner Independent Pictures told Entertainment Weekly that Richard Linklater’s film version of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly would feature music by Radiohead, “including a brand-new track from lead singer Thom Yorke’s upcoming solo release.” No further details were revealed until mid May, when Yorke sent an e-mail message to W.A.S.T.E., the official Radiohead fan club: “this is just a note to say that something has been kicking around in the background that i have not told you about. its called The Eraser. nigel [Godrich] produced & arranged it. i wrote and played it. the elements have been kicking round now for a few years and needed to be finished & i have been itching to do something like this for ages. it was fun and quick to do. inevitably it is more beats & electronics. but its songs. stanley [Donwood] did the cover. yes its a record! no its not a radiohead record. as you know the band are now touring and writing new stuff and getting to a good space so i want no crap about me being a traitor or whatever splitting up blah blah . . . this was all done with their blessing. and i don’t wanna hear that word solo. doesnt sound right. ok then thats that.”

So with less than two months’ notice, and in the midst of a major Radiohead tour, Thom Yorke has delivered a not-a-solo album. It’s an odd move but one that makes sense given his recent comments about the music industry — he was quoted on the cover of NME as saying, “The mainstream music business is such a bunch of fucking retards,” and he told the New York Times, “I think the structure of the music business is in a state of collapse” — and his expressed desire to buck the system. The Eraser is the second solo album to be released by a member of Radiohead — guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood’s 2003 instrumental film score, Bodysong, was the first. And The Eraser is the first Radiohead-related release since the band fulfilled their contract with EMI.

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