This is not a Radiohead album.
I feel obliged to write that. We can move on now.
This album does include Thom Yorke, who is exactly one member of Radiohead. Thus, within these nine songs — none of which feature all five members of Radiohead — you will find exactly no bass playing or drumming by any members of Radiohead, nor will you find any guitar playing by a member of said band.
In fact, as you listen to Eraser, by Thom Yorke, you will hear little to no guitar at all. Something sounding like that instrument — popularized a long time ago, employed widely and to great effect on many albums, including, of course, those by Radiohead — knifes its way into “And It Rained All Night.” But, overtaken by blanketed layers of soprano strings and Yorke’s falsetto, the guitar-like sound dissipates. No problem: There is more than enough on The Eraser to distract you from this one missing instrumental element.
There is, for example, Yorke’s vocal delivery. In this instance, metered in a rather regimented way in accordance with the click click of the synthetic drums. “It’s relentless, invisible, indefatigable,/ Indisputable, undeniable,” Yorke sings about these raindrops falling all night. Listeners familiar with Radiohead’s “Myxomatosis” (from 2003’s Hail to the Thief) will notice a similarity in Yorke’s delivery; both are urgent and insistent, and what better way to express urgency than with urgent vocabulary? [Editor’s note: The author is aware this is not a Radiohead album; any references to Radiohead are purely to illuminate the elucidation of certain facts of The Eraser.]
That said, a method of approach for The Eraser is to think of “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box” (from 2001’s Amnesiac) without guitars. Just a suggestion. Or try “Gloaming” (off Thief), but minus the deliberately apocalyptical bent.
For an album dominated by computerized beats — didn’t Yorke predict this in some way? — The Eraser is not a lifeless product. And neither, like the aforementioned example, is it purposely dark. What makes it breathe, what allows it to flourish above its glitchy techno, its processed wizardry — courtesy of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and most likely one or more laptop computers — what untangles it from a mess of circuitry and power strips and anti-virus pop-up warnings, is Yorke’s incredible, distinctive voice. With the crafty ability to be both frustratingly vague, vaguely academic, and at the same time gloomily foreboding in his lyrics, Yorke draws us in, entangling us in a hypnotic web of phrases: “The more you try to erase me/ The more that I appear/ The more you try the eraser/ The more that you appear” (from the title track). Is it a good lyric? I don’t know. But listen to Yorke sing it, and you’ll be convinced.
“This is fucked up/ fucked up,” he sings on “Black Swan.” Exactly what is fucked up is not made clear, but now Yorke sings in a nearly indecipherable growl, and then it’s double-tracked, and, co-existing with the pseudo hip-hop beat beneath and all around it, we realize Yorke is more than a singer. As Sasha Frere-Jones wrote recently in The New Yorker: “Yorke, as his early sponsor Michael Stipe once did, plays his voice the way his bandmates play their instruments, and he has impressively consistent pitch.”
And nowhere is this truer than on “Atoms for Peace,” The Eraser’s standout. As a keyboard riff reminiscent of Amnesiac’s “Pyramid Song” stretches lazily across several measures, only to hypnotically repeat itself, Yorke unleashes a gorgeous falsetto chorus: “Want you to get out/ And make it work.”
The song is, for this album, musically simple, only the low rumblings of an off-beat rhythm, more like a pulse, a casual insinuation of a beat to which Yorke adds his marvelous voice, remarkably weaving in and out and around the synthetic beat. When he drags the line “I’ll be okay,” over the complete twenty-four-bar phrase, you’ll realize that the real beauty of this album is not measured in the beats, but the impressive way Yorke understands these beats and works with them.
And this song and its direct, unambiguous lyrics do wonders encapsulating the album’s theme: “No more talk about the old days,” Yorke sings. “It’s time for something great.”
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