Album Reviews: The Eraser by Thom YorkeConsidering the blitzkrieg of anticipation and analysis that has come with every Radiohead album post-OK Computer, frontman Thom Yorke has gone about as under the radar as possible with his solo debut, The Eraser. Yorke has spent years at the sort of critical peak that invariably leads contrarians to declare him overrated -- or a lesser light to, say, guitar wizard and gadget master Jonny Greenwood. But when he's left to his own devices, it's possible to feel something quite unexpected, considering Radiohead's success: Is it possible that Yorke will go full circle and become underrated again? Is he already being taken for granted?
He's one of the great vocalists and mood-setters in all of music, and The Eraser finds him retreating into a familiar niche that saves room for some surprise flourishes. The record is dense and melancholy, but also somewhat humble and approachable. Yorke sounds like he's working from DIY seclusion, hunkered down with a computer, a pile of old records, and messy mountains of somber literature.
The Eraser begins with its title track, which itself begins with a foreboding piano that is saved from isolation by the sort of skittering electronic beat that populates much of the album. "Please excuse me but I've got to ask," Yorke begins. "Are you only being nice because you want something?" As usual, he doesn't go long before turning the microscope -- and the venom -- inward. Reading Yorke's lyric sheet often doesn't really convey the point of his lyrics, as his inflections and brittleness can put high drama into throwaway lines, or partial clarity into the ones that seem the most Dadaist. His vocals sometimes outwork the music, as on "The Clock," which has a busy, somewhat unfocused arrangement that distracts from Yorke's beautifully sung warnings about time running out. And the album's middle gets mushy, mainly because of the claustrophobic, largely spoken "Skip Divided." "Black Swan" comes closest to what would typically be considered the Radiohead template, riding a familiarly propulsive guitar riff -- largely an endangered species here -- and tense electronic percussion.
"Harrowdown Hill" is the best piece of The Eraser, the rare Yorke narrative that, though enigmatic, is directly drawn from the headlines (and acknowledged as such). He seems to sing from the perspective of British weapons inspector David Kelly, whose 2003 death was controversially ruled a suicide. But even without the backstory, the song -- another inimitable vocal over a mixture of cold, electronic funk and ethereal gloom -- packs a punch. It's a deeply sympathetic track that explores some critical Yorke themes: shady governments, suffocating paranoia, and plans for escape. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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