News of Thom’s solo album spreads gradually. We’ve seen the artwork (at Stanley’s Lazrides show), he’s confirmed to me it’s not drum n bass… but what will it sound like? Has he played us any of the songs? (Just one, as it turns out, Cymbal Rush at Koko. Told you it didn’t sound like a Radiohead song).
The NME reports on the tour and in between interviewing “super fans” and obsessing about the amount of guitars the band are using in the new stuff (as if this re-legitimises their presence in their pages) it offers a preview of The Eraser. It is coming out in July, it is not the end of the band, it is songs, it has been made with Nigel, it “was quick and fun to do”. Thom doesn’t want to hear that word “solo”. No one has heard it yet. It was a secret so people didn’t think the band were splitting up.
The rest of the page is taken up with interviews with fans, the NME’s attitude is still to present people like Tea on N’s experience in pejorative terms, probably because she dares be critical about the new stuff – it IS unfinished after all. All the new songs get the full treatment (in other magazines too) which is rather unfair, but they’re already out there. Turn over of bootlegs is faster than ever. Videos are on YouTube before the tour is over. You don’t have to wait for someone you know to get their hands on tapes anymore.
The NME’s hyping of every last fart of Radiohead output, keeping track of the recordings of new songs available online, interviewing someone who is bootlegging the shows (this isn’t a new phenomenon after all, it’s just a band of this size makes an impact, makes it news worthy. The online activity is starting to register with the paper press, who are still getting to grips with having websites, are being out done by big blogs like Pitchfork). Also Thom is resolutely not talking directly to The NME, so they have to fill the cover-promoted feature with something.
The Eraser website has an animated bit of the artwork and continues to be updated with clips trailing the release. I resist until Gabi sends me a link to the whole thing and we listen together, early one morning, instant messaging as we hear each song.
To me it is the sound of Nigel locking Thom in the studio and forcing him to finish the songs. It’s more intimate than recent Radiohead music, the vocals are right in your ear, sexy in a resigned way rather than angry. The other thing that stands out is Thom singing in character or as another person talking to him, observing himself from outside. It’s personal stuff with all the personal bits taken out. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it appears with Yorke lyrics.
In an interview conducted in Blackpool with Rolling Stone’s David Fricke published online on 1st June (one of the first in what turns into a two month campaign) Thom talks about the album being ideas that “worked in an isolated laptop space”.
“It’s the stuff I do when I get bored…” He came to it thinking he was being clever with programming but in the end Nigel forced him to be a singer again. “You should have seen the stuff I didn’t put in.” He confirms that any future record deals will be for one album only. He’s into the idea of making singles and EPs but they haven’t really talked about how to release in the future yet. “I want something that gets you out on the dance floor, I always have, but we never do that.”
So what has he learned? “I have a lot more confidence.”
“I had fun doing it as well. That is mostly what I have learned – this is fun. I’m very lucky.”
In the photos the raincoat doesn’t look that dirty.
It doesn’t sink it yet but this moment in the band’s trajectory is pivotal. Saying no to meeting Tony Blair was in the middle of it. A breakthrough in the struggle. A lifeline to the creative energy they need to make another Radiohead record, where the personal and the political are expressed together with a clarity heretofore not achieved. The inspiration for Harrowdown Hill is much discussed and becomes a news story in itself (as quotes from interviews are wont to do in this age of rolling news).
(See The Eraser LP review Pete Paphides, The Times, 30 June 2006).
Working at the edge of a newsroom has compensations for me. I have access to all the papers and keep all the reviews. There are dozens, every newspaper now has a music section and recommends tracks to download, in all but a couple you can sense the frustration that this is not a Radiohead album. There are a LOT of interviews with Thom, which there haven’t been for a while. This LP gets well documented. Reading between all the angst and end of the world-ing there’s a more settled, more confident Thom operating in the middle, he’s got an overview, he knows what he can do and what he can’t. People still don’t quite realise how funny he can be.
The Eraser, Amnesiac… rubbing out and forgetting, sorry to be here doing all the remembering for you…