My love for Radiohead is something I can trace back to the age of six. Anyone who knows me well enough is aware that I answered my humble Beano filofax’s query of “Favourite Band?” with “Radiohead”, and my allegiance to them has only grown stronger since. That’s a background I feel I have to give before spotlighting Thom Yorke’s debut solo effort – something that wasn’t released until deep into Radiohead’s career. Even I went into The Eraser with more trepidation than excitement, far more worried about its implications for my favourite band and what it meant for their future.
Despite the fact that my very first pirated version of it had the first two seconds of every track cut off, it only took one listen for me to know the release was more than solid. With clear gaps where the other four members of his band would flourish, the songs are still just that – songs. While layered with the bleep-bloop electronic tinkering that would be ever-present in Radiohead’s middle-age, there’s still the emotion that Yorke can’t help but express. Sailing with haunting grace over the tightly produced beats, his distinctive voice lends the proceedings an instant weight.
Catchier than one might think, The Eraser starts out with a pleasing title track that promises plain sailing. It’s generally a promise carefully kept too, though I’ve found a lot of listeners tend to choose at least one track to take against. Whether it’s the dawdling Black Swan (which I actually rather enjoy), or And It Rained All Night‘s aimless chug, the filler tends to pale in comparison to the surrounding material. Atoms for Peace for example, is one of the most evocative and beautiful vocal melodies Yorke has ever committed to tape – and that’s saying something.
Its only promotional single, and the standout track of the bunch, Harrowdown Hill, is a disturbing and paranoid slice of warped pop that’s as inspired as it is cool. It has this incredible cold warmth that pervades the material on The Eraser, and probably Yorke’s mindset at the time. You begin to realise that it makes sense these songs stand separate from Radiohead, as their bare bones are special snippet enough of their creative’s soul. No matter how sequenced or synthesised the compositions become (and all have that quality), they’re a vividly living mirror of he who recorded them in the first place.
Yorke would come to cheapen and somewhat trivialise his solo work with the glorified extended jam sessions of Amok, and even contributions to the The Twilight Saga soundtrack. Fortunately, we still have the rough diamond of The Eraser to remind us that Yorke, with some restraint, doesn’t necessarily need the crutches of his fellow Radiohead members to succeed. It was also an interesting insight into how much Yorke has to do with Radiohead’s finished product. Indeed, as was often assumed, it turned out that it was quite a lot.
Definitely not as undeniably excellent as the Radiohead releases it sits amongst, there are many tones and shapes missing from the sound that would help make it more rounded. As it stands, though, its honesty actually makes it break out of the shackles that the individual songs themselves set. There are some absolute gems all over the record, but even its darkest corridors are as intriguing as they are jarring. It’s a shame that Amok wouldn’t be the strong and focused evolution that it should have been. With that in mind, though, it possibly adds to the mystique of The Eraser. An album as digital as it is organic, its cynical fronds are surprisingly infectious.