Radiohead have been talked about a lot over the last few months, due to the surprise release of their latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool
In all of the hubbub of a new Radiohead album, however, it’s almost too easy to get swept along by the present and forget about what has come before.
That’s especially true in the case of frontman Thom Yorke‘s debut solo record The Eraser, which dropped ten years ago this weekend (July 10).
Recorded during Radiohead’s 2004 hiatus and inbetween their 2005 rehearsals, it’s a record that sits comfortably among the best output of Yorke’s full-time band. But there are still those out there who haven’t given it a chance.
Here’s why it’s worth re-visiting.
It’s basically a really good Radiohead record
Yorke is the driving creative force of Radiohead. Sure, the band’s style of music lends itself incredibly well to group sessions, and Jonny Greenwood’s innovations are also integral to their sound, but most of what ends up on their albums is an eventual fleshing out of a seed; an idea planted by Yorke himself.
This means The Eraser ends up sounding just as good as any Radiohead record out there, and bares a striking resemblance to their wider creative palette, at least on the surface. Definitely one for fans of the Oxfordshire band to pick up.
It pre-empted Radiohead’s own evolution
The Eraser deals primarly in electronic music. Though the band had incorporated electronic elements for a good while before 2006, never had they relied on them so fully.
In the years since though, we’ve seen Radiohead dabble in all sorts of sounds and textures, and a more electronic based album from them wouldn’t be too much of a surprise for anyone.
In fact, there’s not much they could do that would take people by too much surprise, such is the nature of their esoteric music. And The Eraser hinted at developments yet to come.
It was composed in an ingenious way
Thom Yorke and his comrades have always been able to come up with interesting new approaches in their music, whether it’s the way the final song or album is released, or simply the way that piece was dreamed up in the first place.
The process behind The Eraser was no different. To generate ideas for the record, Yorke cut and pasted clips from Radiohead’s library of original samples that had been building over the years in hotel rooms as the band toured.
Yorke would then send these fragments and snippets over to long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, who picked out moments with potential to be fleshed out into full songs, edited them accordingly and sent them back over to Yorke.
The collaborative process was one which added to The Eraser‘s unique soundscape, and allowed the pair to trim the fat off ideas that were otherwise not perfect to begin with.
Talking to Rolling Stone in 2013, Yorke said of the process:
“Black Swan back in the day was a nine-minute load of bollocks. Except for this one juicy bit, and [Godrich] goes past and goes, ‘That bit. F*ck the rest.’ Usually it’s something like that.”
It’s deeply political
Despite Yorke’s reluctance to craft lyrics for his electronic pieces (his initial intention was to create an album of purely instrumental tracks, and he was cajoled into adding vocals by Godrich), the final version’s lyrical content touches on very political ground indeed.
The lead single ‘Harrowdown Hill’ for example focuses on the death of David Kelly, a whistleblower who told a reporter that the British government had falsely identified weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and apparently committed suicide soon after.
Even the album’s artwork has been likened to a political metaphor by Yorke; an image by longtime Radiohead cover artist Stanley Donwood, inspired by the legend of King Canute failing to command the ocean.
Yorke regularly compared the image to government attitudes towards climate change at the time.
It got the critics in a tizz
Reviewing the album for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield said:
“These aren’t Radiohead songs, or demos for Radiohead songs. They’re something different, something we haven’t heard before … it’s intensely beautiful, yet it explores the kind of emotional turmoil that makes the angst of [Radiohead albums] OK Computer or The Bends sound like kid stuff.”
The Village Voice praised Yorke’s vocals, now laid bare, having been altered with layers of reverb and digital effects on previous Radiohead records, and Pitchfork reckoned that the record was “strikingly beautiful.”
It really is.