“The more you try to erase me, the more that I appear”
Thom Yorke’s Eraser is best viewed as a tangential companion piece to Kid A, in my mind Radiohead’s best album. It was that record’s Morning Bell that best married Thom Yorke’s bare, unprocessed vocals with electronic soundscaping and instrumentation. Those dissatisified with some of Radiohead’s tampering with Thom’s vocals will enjoy some of the naked intimacy of his voice here, especially engrossing over the headphones. Beginning with the deceptive, faux-naive Chicago house chords of the brilliant title track, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be a miminal affair. But Analyse and The Clock put guitars into the mix for tracks that wouldn’t be out of place on Amnesiac, the latter having a passing resemblance to that album’s Knives Out. Whereas these tracks err towards drifting ponderousness, Black Swan has a discreet pop sensibility married to I Might be Wrong-style looped guitar loops and layered harmonies.
The best part of the album, however, is its final third, beginning with Atoms for Peace, in which sweet vocals compliment meditative electronics in the mold of early Aphex Twin. The subtle textural shifts and intricate but unfussy production gives an idea of what Massive Attack tried but largely failed to achieve on 100th Window. Better still, Harrowdown Hill tells the story of weapons inspector David Kelly’s suicide as an Orwellian tragedy. Despite being one of Yorke’s most overtly political songs, it is also one of his most heartbreakingly universal: “We think the same things at the same time / We just can’t do anything about it. / We think the same things at the same time / There are so many of us. So you can’t count”. Cymbal Rush sustains this sombre and elegaic mood to round off a record as accomplished, if not more consistent, than Radiohead’s last two. The album’s modesty and intimacy is its genius, removed of some of the bombast and histrionics that Radiohead seem to veer towards under the burden of expectation. Viewed independently, this is one of the year’s finest electronica albums and one of the most successful cross-over alt-rock / electronica records ever made.