Well, I am pleasantly surprised.
Not by the music itself, which is pleasant but features absolutely no surprises (ha! pun!), but by its rightfully lukewarm reception. Even the most ardent defenders of Radiohead who would gladly bathe in Thom Yorke’s piss hoping that some of his leftover genius that hasn’t been filtered by his bladder would transfer over through skin absorption probably wouldn’t place this as even close to Radiohead’s best albums (when has a solo artist’s work ever been?). Sure, we can say, that it’s better than Pablo Honey, but how much is that a compliment, really? A measly 6.6 over at Pitchfork? Has anyone ever been more proud of that site?
The good news is that, compared to AMOK seven years later, which is by all intents and purposes a sequel to The Eraser, bearing the same style and similar cover art (Newsflash: the world is ending! Thom Yorke: “It’s fucked up!”), he hasn’t totally forgotten about just what a melody entails. And there are plenty of catchy ones abound on The Eraser, the choruses of “The Eraser,” “And It Rained All Night” (which is enough to bounce in your head once after hearing) and “Harrowdown Hill.” More importantly, however, is while people have been conditioned to expect catchy choruses, Thom Yorke doesn’t slack around on the verses either. Listen to the way he moves from nigh-on-grating falsetto to a biting normal range on “The Eraser,” and shifts gears a second time to let the note hang in the air, “Please excuse me but I got to ask / Are you only being nice / Because you want something?” The same goes for the wonderfully iambic phrasing in “Analyze,” “A self, fulfilling prophecy” (which is strengthened further in live renditions of the song, another Radiohead case where the live version is so much better than the studio version. See “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and “Videotape” for more examples).
But the problem is there are plenty of sour moments dispersed with the solid ones, which sometimes feel like they drag the album on, despite the 40-minute brevity (made more tangible thanks to its general light-footedness). “The Clock” is too innocuous to speak about. It’s like what would happen if one person covered “Bloom,” but without any of the things that made “Bloom” great because it’s hard for one man to replicate the sounds generated from an entire band and session musicians to boot, not to mention his voice doesn’t soar nearly as much. By comparison, Yorke does take chances with “Skip Divided,” but the track sounds like Thom Yorke imitating Lou Reed over an electronic bed. Yeah, even the description sounds bad. It’s a laughably melodyless track; even the falsettoed backing vocals running parallel to the bass don’t really know what it’s supposed to be doing, and when Thom Yorke finally gives us some semblance to a hook, all it is is a bunch of “Hey hey”’s and “The devil may”’s.
On the second half of the album, despite sporting the best riff and chorus on the album, “Harrowdown Hill” simply refuses to end, and I’m genuinely shocked that it clocks under 5 minutes because it feels like it runs for more than that. It’s really just a standard pop affair, which should’ve ended at the 3:38 mark, before Yorke throws a piano bridge at us (which could’ve been a coda) and then he throws another coda afterwards (“It was a slippery, slippery slope…”), and then another coda after that by returning briefly to the original riff. “Cymbal Rush” defies expectations after traditions of Radiohead closers being awesome, because this one plods along without much direction. The first half comes off as a lesser version of “The Gloaming” and despite Pitchfork’s Mark Pytlik noting that “the song’s second half relents to a set of galloping piano chords and complex rhythm tracks, making it, from a producerly standpoint, the most accomplished thing here,” I’d like to point out that the second half of “The Eraser” did the exact same thing, but better, not to mention the first half coming full with Four Tet-inspired (or inspiring) sounds.
But for all my criticisms against The Eraser, I’d like to point out that had Thom Yorke not expelled all his fascinations and forays into IDM, he might’ve bullied the rest of Radiohead into enabling him and we would never have gotten In Rainbows. You are sort of left wondering what kind of album The King of Limbs would’ve been if Thom Yorke had released a solo album before it. A better one, I’m sure.