Music review: Thom Yorke - The Eraser
XL Recordings released on July produced by Nigel Godrich
7 August 2006
What have we done to deserve this? The cover is about as black and white as anything could be – a sort of medieval style woodcut depiction of London being swept away. Yes we get the idea. He doesn’t really mean it. How could he?
The album itself is just as bloody obvious. It’s almost not there at all – somewhere between black and white.
The music can be described as a kind of spacious but glum elctronica. We can excuse Thom Yorke as being a bit hampered by the limited things he does with his voice and the limited emotional range it can express. This record has some sort of healing property to it. In some way in the pompous manner in which it tries so hard to mean very little whilst making faked desperate assertions about the terrible state of the planet has the effect of bringing a wry smile to the face. Yorke’s music is like some sort of medical treatment fired at our poor frazzled 21st century brains. It still sounds really good in the sense of all the technique and experience that Thom has is brought to bear, but it is not good music in the way that is normally understood of meeting some aesthetic or interpretative standard.
As music it doesn’t work. Its awful, but probably worth keeping as a curiosity. It’s a sound sculpture. It does have a striking form. It’s very designed. It’s coherent. Its difference to all other music gives it its enormous attraction to the buying public and yes it really makes an impact on the listener. You might still love this record if you were tone deaf.
However, any musician should be ashamed to have made this record. It has nothing to do with what music should try to do. Another name for this record could have been “listen to my mistake, instead of that for a while.” That’s far too harsh, but I can’t think of a way to soften the critique.
The album is depressing because this is degraded song. It is perhaps meant as a hollow version of the richness of song in a culture that no longer deserves celebration. The only time we might feel uplifted is after we’ve listened to it – or should that be, got through it.
But for goodness sake – this record is top 5 everywhere including the US. So it’s definitely a reflection of what many people want to hear. Not the forward looking dynamic of pop – perhaps that makes us too queasy these days – but a moment of space and reflection seemingly miraculously carved out, more like an antidote to modern life. But if you like this record you are part of the problem even if it does take a little time to find this out. You see, its marketing strategies are as cunning as a Beatles record but not a millionth as much fun.
So this is Thom Yorke’s jazz. Like the solo John Lennon we need to be familiar and curious about the people themselves. Thom Yorke’s music has always focussed enormous attention on to his audio and video suffering. His persona is very much part of the presentation. That ain’t jazz. No. The wonder expressed in jazz is not to be reined in, designed. It refuses to make sense for any present day system because it draws attention to the bafflement of a true freedom never experienced.
Why compare this to jazz? Because the record communicates certain avant garde ideas which jazz is still a progressive if battered part of. That’s why it is useful for people concerned about the need for new and useful progressive culture to make some points that might make its meaning in that debate a little clearer. This writer says this record has very little use for the future. That’s why progressive rock is seen as a curious product of the past, a childish excitement in an idea of intelligent playing. But one of the last things music can be is intelligent in itself.
On “The Eraser,” we hear a new marketing man’s plop of complexity as a lack of playing, a sort of; “look what’s happened to our notes. They’re sad too,” kind of stance. Well they’re not or some people try not to make them sound sad. But for it to sell the record has to be made with the in built idea that Thom Yorke is trapped and that any of his ideas are just those of a very simple, transparently idiotic, modest and not particularly suffering martyr. So he’s alright really. Good to know. The record might be enjoyed for its cool, melancholy ambience but not for its childish politics which are egotistically dominant.
So why is this in any way important politically ? Like all pop culture it’s a pointer to a certain sensibility of the present time. The record tells you about a kind of fake cutting edge around at the moment. Yorke innocently but savagely degrades many ideas of the avant garde, not to speak of freedom but to speak of artfully fucked up musings from his lovely bedroom.
If this cutting edge lacks sharpness then it tells us something about a kind of impotence and inability to offer any inspiration outside of the present day social and mental mess. It’s a recipe for self pity no matter how ironically it is wrapped up. Liberalism can be barmy and Thom Yorke is primarily a poet for a liberal peace. His music is very relevant now because to liberals the world does not seem to make much sense. The cover of this album is like a depiction of stormy weather – a warning. But beyond the posturing of the album there is a world of rationalism and ways to make sense of the world. The whole thing is just an illusion if people would just wise up. Alright as far as it goes but more ephemeral than some might think. Music as a liberal tool. It’s still better to annoy your parents than depress them.