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Full Erasure

 

Thom Yorke: The Eraser

XL, 2006

Rating: 3.7

 

Posted: July 7, 2006

By Laurence Station

Wouldn’t it be great if Radiohead front man Thom Yorke broke free on his debut solo disc and made a straight up electro-soul album à la Jamie Lidell on last year’s excellent Multiply? Imagine an entire album where Yorke puts aside his paranoiac worldview and embraces the full range of his gorgeous pipes, untreated by studio gadgetry, wholly unfettered. Certainly, the notion of Yorke going all Marvin Gaye on us would be unexpected. But wouldn’t it be a wonderful left turn? Thom Yorke lays down the burden of holding the handbasket we’re all going to hell in and gets his groove on. Brilliant, Thom, brilliant!

The Eraser, alas, is nothing like the opening-paragraph fantasy posited in this review. What we’ve got is a collection of samples, throbbing bass lines and stray melodic threads kicking around Yorke’s PowerBook, stitched together by Yorke and longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. Toss in par-for-the-course Yorke-ian lyrics regarding uncertainty, false identities and nasty conspiracies, and the results are competent, if unsurprising. No sweet love being made anywhere, just a surplus of muted desperation, passive-aggressive anxieties and modern-age queasiness.

Eraser opens with a woozy piano and closes with a slightly less hesitant minor-key mutter. In between, Yorke and Godrich offer airy, electro-glide sketches (the title track), an intriguing digital shuffle (“Analyse,” which suitably examines a hectic treadmill life that leaves no time for reflection), and edgily repetitive clicks and tumbles (“The Clock”).

Out of its nine tracks, Eraser sports three stellar cuts: The moody bitch-and-moan session “Black Swan,” wherein Yorke offers such quintessentially conflicted observations as, “I made it to the top, made it to the top / This is fucked up, fucked up”; “And It Rained All Night,” a punchy, powerful tale of apocalyptic cleansing; and the blood-boiling-angry “Harrowdown Hill,” about late United Nations weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly, whose body was found in a wooded area of the titular location. Accusatory lines like “You will be dispensed with / When you become inconvenient” offer abundant grist for conspiracy-buff mills.

What makes that trio of songs stand out amongst the others is their distinctive natures and intensity of execution. Consider the aforementioned “The Clock,” which cuts out abruptly and feels unfinished, as if Yorke had a really good initial loop but couldn’t figure out a suitable way to properly develop it; or “Atoms For Peace,” in which Yorke’s voice threatens to break free, but never quite does (though it does contain the album’s best couplet: “Peel all your layers off / I want to eat your artichoke heart”).

The closing “Cymbal Rush” appears to be about an artist overwhelmed by the creative process and its resulting detritus (“Try to save your house / Try to save your songs / Try to run / But they followed you on the hill”). Perhaps The Eraser is just the sort of palette cleanser Yorke needed as a reenergized Radiohead preps its next studio release. The erasure of stray bits from Yorke’s creative hard drive has been salvaged into something approximating a proper solo release. Shame we didn’t get a rendition of “Let’s Get it On,” though.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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