Monday, March 15, 2010

Radiohead unplugged - Thom Yorke's 'The Eraser'

While, as with so much of the music I have written about on this blog, I was an embarrassingly late bloomer in discovering Radiohead so late in my life (see 28th September 2009), it took me only five minutes from seeing what a great band they were to see, too, what a great solo performer their lead was.

Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, is in some ways a safer album than much of what Radiohead have produced, less erratic in its moods, more unified and predictable in its tones, while in other ways it takes more risks, relying much more on spacey, almost experimental, electronic sounds, where strange an unlikely musical colours are not so much juxtaposed, as blended.

But here, as with Radiohead, it’s Thom Yorke’s unique and wonderful voice that makes the music so instantly recognisable as his work – not just because of how the voice sounds, fragile and wraithlike, but also because of what he does with it, floating it in the sky, dragging it in the gravel, a voice that strays far enough away from the note to sound slightly disembodied, other worldly, but not so far as to lose its spacey musicality.

The Eraser is an album drenched in melancholia, and you feel it from opening title track, with Thom Yorke’s slightly eerie, slightly ethereal, falsetto, wafting, trying to find a home within the gentle, heartbroken beats of the piano.

The sadness of the opening track stays with you for pretty well the entire album, but with a voice and a musicianship as rich as Thom Yorke’s, it takes you through many shades, and talks to you in many tones – whispering sometimes, like it does in the pensive, self-reflective ‘Analyse’, muttering in resentment other times, like in the darkly brooding ‘Black Swan’.

The music behind the voice is every bit as interesting and, despite its first glance appearance of sameness, every bit as nuanced as the Thom’s voice. Listen to the way a piano chimes and bleeds tears into the otherwise sure, square beat of ‘The Clock’, held together by droning bass, almost medieval, and then to how that same drone returns, transformed in ‘And it Rained All Night’, like there’s a plane coming in to land, ominous, in the midst of a midnight storm where the notes, like the music’s tonality, are pelting down, splashing up for a second or two, and then hitting the hard, dark pavement again.

Or notice the way the sounds become more spaced out in ‘Skip Divded’, where the synthesized, synthetic electronic sounds bubble and burp around Thom Yorke’s voice, more disgruntled and unsettled here, until in ‘Atoms for Peace’ a kind of comfort seems to blend in with those spacey, dislocated sounds, almost bordering on, without quite crossing into, hope.

The last two tracks bring a kind of richness into the mix, with the sound of sustained strings, like twilight on the sea, mixing with the nervous electronica, and the ill at ease beats, in ‘Harrowdown Hill’ – stings that in the closing ‘Cymbal Rush’ have melted into sad, open harmonies, now more like the sea than the twilight, as if the music is now coming to you from underwater, already drowned, while Thom Yorke’s voice cries its tears from somewhere far above.

The Eraser is not just another Radiohead album – it has its own distinctive flavour, focussing, as it does, on its own patch of ground – and yet it would not have been possible without them, as Thom Yorke himself acknowledges in the album’s liner notes. As such, it is as much as a testament to the collective skill of the band as it is to the individual skill of its lead.

But, apart from all that, The Eraser is just great music – music that twangs at your heart, but, thanks to that strange, unearthly voice of Thom Yorke, still leaves you feeling that, even when you think you’re submerged in sadness, there’s something holding you, keeping you afloat.

1 comment:

  1. I really need to try the eraser again - i'm a HUGE radiohead fan but haven't quite got my head round his solo stuff yet