In some ways, this pick comes as a complete surprise to me. In other ways, it was entirely inevitable.
THOM YORKE, after all, is the voice of my favorite band -- a band that shattered my spirits early in '06 by announcing that they wouldn't be releasing a new album until at least 2007. Lazy bastards.
But then ol' Thom pulled a surprise out of his hat (his detractors -- and he seems to have many -- might say: "ass") by revealing that he had crafted a solo album with the help of long-time RADIOHEAD producer NIGEL GODRICH. Hallelujah!, thought I. This -- along with countless bootlegs of Radiohead's 2006 world tour -- would get me through.
There was, of course, one catch. Mr. Yorke was very quick to inform his fans that THE ERASER was almost entirely an "electronic" album. Blips. Bleeps. Loops-a-palooza. Cut. Paste. Not-so-okay computer.
Not that that came as any great surprise. I mean, the band itself hadn't done the full-on guitar-thing for almost a decade. At least, in the studio. So... I crossed my fingers and waited for the inevitable Internet leak, which, naturally, followed promptly enough.
First off, the STANLEY DONWOOD-designed album art was typically cool and creepy, which was reassuring. But then it was time to actually start listening to the thing, which kind of scared the shit out of me, to tell you the truth. You see, I'm really not a "blips and bleeps" kind of guy. I'm one of those people who wouldn't mind hearing "real" guitars on the next Radiohead record. Not that I need another BENDS, exactly, but something that incorporates some of that album's sense of music-made-by-humans "warmth" would be welcome.
So, when THE ERASER's title track initiated its sequence like one of KID A's more alien efforts, my heart despaired. But then: a reprieve -- in the form of that "wall of Thom Yorkes" chorus that's as "warm" as I could ever want or need it to be. Second song "Analyse" I liked even more -- more multi-tracked Yorke vocals, but this time coupled with some simple but haunting piano work.
Over the next couple tracks, I realized that my worst fears were not going to be realized with THE ERASER. This was not going to be one long, unvarying drone of a record. True, the robots-have-taken-over-the-world electronics were the steel-rod spine that held everything together, but they were differentiated enough that actual SONGS emerged from the murk. Even more importantly, Yorke's voice was left sufficiently "unfucked with" to humanize the proceedings -- most notably while upbraiding the Iraq-apologists in the Blair regime on "Harrowdown Hill" or spewing simple, oh-the-humanity mantras for the 21st century like "Black Swan"'s "[This is] fucked up, fucked up."
As it turns out, what I thought would be little more than a placeholder for me as I awaited the next Radiohead epic, has turned out to be the album that most moved me in 2006. Who knew that a series of "blips and bleeps" could spawn such an irresistible emotional undertow.
Thom Yorke on MySPACE.
BONUS TRACKS >>>
[MP3] "Analyse" [live/in-studio]
[VID] "Cymbal Rush" [live/in-studio]
[VID] "The Clock" [live/in-studio]
[MP3] "Analyse" [VARIOUS Remix]
[MP3] "Atoms for Peace" [FOUR TET Remix]