Music Review – Thom Yorke, The Eraser
Given the impressive and often groundbreaking catalogue Radiohead has amassed since their 1993 debut album Pablo Honey, it is impossible not to hold dauntingly high expectations for lead singer Thom Yorke’s solo effort, The Eraser. In part due to instant classics like The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A, one’s initial listen of The Eraser might feel a bit anticlimactic. But like a good wine t hat richens with age, The Eraser demands more than one listen to be fully appreciated. Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich seem intent on preserving atmosphere, even if that means forsaking songwriting staples like, well – choruses. But despite this, The Eraser succeeds due to the haunting landscapes Yorke conjures not only with his electronic gadgets and keyboards, but more importantly, with his gorgeous voice.
The album opens with the title track “The Eraser” and immediately sets the tone in its refusal to follow the usual conventions of songwriting, relying instead on entirely unconventional time signatures and frenetic skip beats. Then comes Yorke’s voice, refreshingly void of the vocoders and vocal distortion of yore, it is instead presented to us in pure form. This pays off on the following song, “Analyse,” which introduces a sweeping piano refrain over taut electronics where Yorke sings, “It gets you down, / You’re just playing a part.” This is as close to a chorus as we’ll find on this album. But while songs like “Analyse,” “The Clock,” and “Black Swan” tread into the familiar with assured vocals and melody, the album quickly reclaims itself as sonic oddity with “Skip Divided,” which is, oddly enough, a love song. With pulsing heart monitors and electronic flies abuzz, Yorke atonally chants, “I’m a skip divided malfunction.” On “Atoms for Peace,” one can’t help but be reminded of the song “Kid A,” which is also structured around a synth-bass loop and slowly layered with playful and often gorgeous keys; only this time, Yorke’s vocal is unfettered and un-fussed with.
But the album’s greatest moment comes with “Harrowdown Hill,” which was the location where the body of Dr. David Kelly (whose evidence negated the theory that Iraq did in fact have weapons of mass destruction) was found. In interviews, Yorke has expressed his feeling that Dr. Kelly’s suicide was driven by the Ministry of Defence, if it even was suicide. Built around a terse guitar motif, a slowly-moving synth section looms over the song, giving an impending sense of doom. Yorke’s vocals have never been so insistent as he raises questions regarding the death of Kelly: “Did I fall or was I pushed? And where’s the blood?” With this song we are reminded of why Yorke is able to get away with what he does while still maintaining such a loyal fan base.