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Published: 2006/08/19
by Brian Gearing

The Eraser – Thom Yorke

XL Recordings

Except for those few folks who foolishly convinced themselves that England’s prophet of the apocalypse might have come back with a sunny acoustic record, those who thought they knew what to expect from Thom Yorke’s first solo album were probably validated by The Eraser. Much of the album is acoustic, but it’s not a singalong record, nor is it another Radiohead album. While many of the looped beats and rhythms are as familiar as Yorke’s falsetto moan, the melodies come from the more organic pulsings of taut piano wires and guitar strings rather than the digital charge of microcircuits and the mechanistic vibrations of a computer speaker. For the most part, Yorke doesn’t stray too far from what he does best — writing songs about alienation in the face of technology and a powerless disillusionment with the New World Orderbut while it is certainly familiar, The Eraser is a Thom Yorke record, and Thom Yorke doesn’t take the easy road to Babylon.

Yorke’s still in love with his own gloominess, of course, though as on Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief, he’s mustered up the courage to throw a few punches, rather than roll over and cry as on OK Computer and Kid A. Over a shuffling piano and tambourine on “Analyse,” he recalls another great Englishman’s observations about life on a stage: “You’re just playing a part, and there’s no time to analyse.” It’d be a whole lot easier on us all if we just stuck to our lines and waited for the curtain, but something’s just not right, and our protagonist seems more determined than ever, if not to fight back, then at least to harden himself to his post-modern reality. On “And It Rained All Night,” he listens as rim shots clack down the track, but he’s “too wasted to fight back,” watching invisible hands on “The Clock,” because “time is runnin’ out for us, and you just moved the hands upon the clock.”

It’s a small miracle that the lyrics on The Eraser are intelligible at all, but Yorke seems to have come to terms with his depressing perspective, and the straight, unaffected vocals are the most honest and open thing he’s put on record since The Bends. Without the full computerized strength of Radiohead, there’s only so much sonic fae he can hide behind, and on this record, he has stepped out from behind the curtain to write lyrics that at least have a logical progression, even if they are still a bit cryptic. Both “Harrowdown Hill” and “Atoms for Peace” could (but probably won’t) make it on alternative radio with their uncharacteristic references to loved ones and electro-pop song structures, and the pseudo-nihilism of “Black Swan” just might win over a few punk rockers as well.

But at heart, The Eraser sounds like a Radiohead album with less of the Radiohead and more of the heart. While “Black Swan” laments, “you have tried your best to please everyone, but it just isn’t happening,” and the title track’s hesitant piano melody sounds like sitting in traffic and taking foolish hope in every blinking brakelight, they are both soft, and if not satisfied with the world, at least at peace that this is life, for better or worse. The less digitized instrumentation cracks a tentative smile at the clearing grey skies, adding up to a record that actually sounds like it was made by a human, not some paranoid android with the subterranean homesick blues, and even Yorke could crack a smile at that.

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