- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

Thom Yorke

The Eraser

Xl Recordings

Not surprisingly, “The Eraser,” Thom Yorke’s first solo album, sounds like Radiohead without the guitars.

Not that we’ve heard too many of those in the band’s music of late. In the traditional sense, Radiohead is barely a rock band anymore. Once an alternative arena rock group, the fivesome discarded a guitar-heavy sound beginning with 2000’s “Kid A” in favor of electronic experimentation that shared almost as much with minimalist art music as it did with popular forms.

The band still has a large following, although not as big as the time of its 1997 masterpiece, “OK Computer.” Maybe the boys from Oxford like it better that way. Their lyrics have always been dark, the words of disaffected misfits, but the words have become even more troubled over the years. Hence, “The Eraser” finds Radiohead frontman Mr. Yorke exploring his complete disenchantment with the fame his immense talent has brought him.

The new album is almost completely electronic, but it still sounds stripped down. The electronic soundscapes are comprised mostly of simple sounds, including beeps, hisses and scratches. Somehow, though, Mr. Yorke has created something beautiful out of it all. Like many of Radiohead’s later albums, “The Eraser” gets better on subsequent spins, as the listener becomes acclimatized to a new acoustic environment.

The lyrics, however, never become comfortable. “Are you only being nice because you want something?” Mr. Yorke asks in the title track, preparing the listener for 40 minutes of paranoia.

It’s not just fame but the world at large that has him confused and concerned. “There’s no time to analyse / to think things through / to make sense,” he complains in “Analyse.” The resentful anger of “The Clock” fits in with the mood his band established with “OK Computer.” “Time is running out for us,” he sings to relentless, driving beats. “You make believe that you are still in charge.”

“Harrowdown Hill,” one of the album’s standout tracks, is about the suicide of British weapons inspector David Kelly. Conspiracy theories abound: “You will become dispensed with when you become inconvenient,” Mr. Yorke sings. “Did I fall or was I pushed?” In the end, though, it turns into an oddly satisfying rock song — a feat few artists could accomplish.

The words are dark, but Mr. Yorke’s voice, overall, remains in the high range. It’s refreshing to hear him try something new on “Skip Divided.” His famous falsetto goes deep, and he sounds more than a bit like Joy Division’s doomed frontman Ian Curtis, another bleak genius.

“The Eraser” might not win Thom Yorke or his band any new fans. He has created what just may be — both musically and lyrically — one of the year’s most indulgent albums, but it also should be judged one of the most beautiful.

Mr. Yorke remains obsessed with his own feelings. However, “The Eraser” represents the courage to try something new when it might have been easier for him to continue being part of one of the greatest rock bands in recent years.

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