Yet another amazing album to come out in 2006… what can I say, fertile year I guess. Thom Yorke is definitely a singular phenomenon in mainstream music nowadays. I don’t think any other band receives the respect and unconditional trust that Radiohead enjoy from their audience. I’ve never heard so many people trying their best to like a new Radiohead album, as if it’s their challenge to rise up to the band’s expectations and not the other way around. I’ve gone through this with a couple of their albums – Amnesiac and King of Limbs, to be specific – and I still feel a bit guilty when I think to myself they’re not their best works in my opinion, as if the fault is with my perception for not being able to attune itself to their ideas. And I’m fine with that. I think it’s a good thing that a band has succeeded in projecting such vision. Thom Yorke’s solo is an interesting, odd little thing, mainly because I feel it isn’t as personal, as clear-cut from the Radiohead model (if there is such a thing) as you’d expect a solo album to be.
I suppose what Thom Yorke was trying to do is incorporate even more electronic music influences into some songs, more than the Radiohead of the time would allow. But that doesn’t change the basic strength, the formidable power his songwriting has in the first place. And since Radiohead have shown they’re not easily swayed by things such as commercial success, there’s no reason to assume there have been themes, ideas, subjects which Thom had to avoid somehow in his work with them. The same passion, inspiration, almost possession (in an ancient sense) drives this album, but with a slightly different surface, a moderately mutated form, relying a bit more on programmed beats and effects than on straightforward band instrumentation.
In the meanwhile, Radiohead seem to have incorporated these influences in their main outfit, especially on King of Limbs, so another solo Thom Yorke release on the same lines seems unlikely. But speculation isn’t why I’m writing this blog, so let me get back to “The Eraser”.
Thinking about this album reminds me of a very poetic definition of a bow – a stick which is nine tenths broken. There’s a tension in this music, an anticipation which are completely contagious. I’ve rarely experienced an album with such intensity, conveyed by such minimal means. There are no lush walls of sound on The Eraser. One can instantly identify every instrument used in any given song. This Spartan approach, this economy of means opens up the album to a mind blowing diversity of rhythm. Relying less on harmony leads to unparalleled rhythmic complexity, and I can’t describe to you the feeling I got when I saw Thom Yorke performing “The Clock” live on Jools Holland, backed by only his acoustic guitar. As if the album wasn’t impressive enough, to see the way this man’s mind perceives rhythm when even the aseptic programmed beats get left behind, the way he can sing in one measure and play his guitar in another, it’s absolutely breathtaking and sent shivers down my spine.
Unfortunately I sound like I’m impressed by how technically proficient Thom proves to be. It’s not about that – it’s about how completely natural it is for him, how far beyond the average songwriter’s level he seems to be operating on. I hear that soon enough we have to look forward to a joint release by Thom Yorke and Flea (from The Red Hot Chilly Peppers). About this release, I head Flea say that, probably because his stage antics, people think of him as a very zany, instinctual player, whereas listeners consider Thom Yorke to be quite cerebral and in total control. Flea states the actual situation is exactly opposite. Flea works with musical theory concepts, understands technical terms and relies on them to build his bass lines and songs. Thom… generates these things, they flow through him. And that makes it truly staggering – yes, the music sounds very controlled, very aseptic and spacious, the music gives the impression of an unbelievably calculated, sharp mind at work, giving birth to something only such a mind could spawn, and yet it’s a revealed fact that this is how Thom Yorke is, simply, not by education, not by discipline, hypothesis and experiment, but by grace.
And, after all, thinking about this album flows, how cohesive and expressive it is while remaining so very stripped down of all pomp and circumstance, how eloquent it is with such limited means, I doubt such a feat would’ve been possible by planning and logistics. This album feels like Athena, born whole, fully armored, from Zeus’ head. The music is cold and mighty, so much so I still feel it’s intimidating, even after all these years. “When you walk in a room everything disappears / When you walk in a room it’s a terrible mess / When you walk in a room I start to melt / When you walk in a room I follow you ‘round like a dog…” – these lyrics, sung the way they are sung, are some of the heart-wrenching, scary words I’ve ever heard, filled as they are with this kind of intensity and razor sharp honesty which Yorke’s voice is comprised of. There’s something grotesque here, in the staggering contrast between the robotized, mechanical sounds used to build the sounds and the voice’s overwhelming humanity, there’s a feeling this album conveys which I haven’t heard anywhere else, ever, and I think is unnamed yet.
If you haven’t listened to it yet, I urge you to give it a try. As I said, it might feel intimidating at first (it sure did for me, and still does), but opening oneself up to such a intensity, no matter how overwhelming it might seem, is an experience I can’t recommend enough.