RETURN TO THE MOON
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|1995||5||"Bloom", "Lotus Flower", "Codex"|
1) Nobody Else Will Be There; 2) Day I Die; 3) Walk It Back; 4) The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness; 5) Born to Beg; 6) Turtleneck; 7) Empire Line; 8) I'll Still Destroy You; 9) Guilty Party; 10) Carin at the Liquor Store; 11) Dark Side of the Gym; 12) Sleep Well Beast
Snapshot b-sides of decent band on the way of becoming a good band.
When The Eraser was originally released, there was a predetermined weariness among the audience lingering around the project. Not only was Yorke the de facto leader and primary songwriter of Radiohead so why was the album needed to begin with instead of another Radiohead album (was this material going to be so flimsy that none of the others wanted to touch it?), but all signs pointed it out to being more of the bleeps and bloops that a vocal portion of the audience had already grown tired of, usually as they clamoured for another OK Computer. This was also off the back of Hail to the Thief which had divided opinions in itself. You can't really separate the Radiohead comparisons from Yorke's solo material in particular thanks to his voice, but I do think that this is a case where a little retrospective context and insight has helped The Eraser to carve out its own identity. It isn't just that Yorke continued to find laptop composition and electronic arrangements so fascinating that it was getting tricky for the other band members to add their voices in it, but we've now heard the Radiohead albums released after this and it's become apparent the band themselves found a different way to move forward stylistically soon afterwards. In short, The Eraser used to sound a little "more of the same" in reference to the twitch-bleeps that were already present throughout the background of Hail to the Thief and its adjacent material in general; viewed now, it's like a coda to where Radiohead were in the early 2000s, tying the bow across the personal and political doomsday panic of a present that they were carrying and Yorke taking the musical ideas he was keen to explore to their logical conclusion on his own to get it out of his system before the work on In Rainbows could begin. Despite the obvious place it has in the wider Radiohead story, time has allowed it to establish more of its own entity now.
And yes, it's a laptop record, where Yorke chops and samples various bits recorded across the years and adds layers of new glitched-out electronic textures over them together with Nigel Godrich. But it's not the kind of arthouse IDM record that would perhaps be expected, coming off some of Radiohead's more experimental material. If anything, the lack of contributions from his four bandmates seems to reveal itself in the album's straightforward nature, where nothing additional is added in the way of the skeletal core of the song. The songs here rarely evolve or explode, with the twist-ending of the title track coming the closest: the rest largely end where they begin and in the way you have direct choruses and snappy hooks, served on top of skittering electronic beats, distorted piano chords and textural patterns. Yorke's vocals are all over the album, rarely leaving space for purely instrumental sections, and they're right in the front of the mix without any filters or other tricks; the human element is often brought to the focus over the production elements, which may come as as surprise when approaching the album. The Eraser is Yorke's interpretation of a synth pop album, circa mid-00s Myspace home production - and it's a far better experience for it, because it lets Yorke's personality stand out in this context, rather than coming across like he's just imitating the music he was binging on at the time.
For the most part The Eraser walks a steady path, rarely rocking the boat: each song introduces its hand early on and then Yorke lays out his vocals full of doom and gloom over them, so close in the mix it's almost intimate. You can easily create a strong atmospheric touch with the production elements at play here and Yorke leans into it a lot throughout the record, the songs growing slowly into overwhelming tonal layers that forebodingly cover the sky. It can be powerful in the right context (the strongest I've felt about this album have happened to be during the rainiest of days, perhaps appropriately given the imagery of the cover) and enjoyable outside it, though the album's origin as a series of instrumental production exercises is apparent and Yorke hasn't taken the opportunity to evolve them beyond that outside adding the vocals in. Still, some songs do jump up to re-seize the listener's attention when things might start get a little too floaty. The jaunty "Black Swan" in the middle in particular is the most extroverted song of the record, building itself across a steady shuffly drum loop, a twangy guitar and arguably the biggest chorus of the record, simple as it is in its blunt profanity; it's also the most Radiohead-esque cut of the album, partly explained by the drums being sampled from a piece of studio clip debris left on the cutting room floor from Radiohead sessions. "Harrowdown Hill" has become synonymous with the album because it distills its apocalyptic frolic so perfectly within its tone and mood, though the biggest reason it's such a highlight is its signature groove built on a slap bass hook that's stuck in your head from the moment it first so unexpectedly appears. "The Eraser", itself, is the album's heart and soul though, housing its strongest melodies, most elaborate growth in its arrangement and a chorus that downright swoons, before morphing into the bedroom rave outro that leads onto the rest of the record.
But if you want to learn something new about Yorke, The Eraser doesn't reveal anything like that. Nor does it have songs of such caliber that a Radiohead fan should automatically rush to listen to it ("The Eraser" itself almost being that, though), because Yorke works to his best when he has other people to bounce off on. His solo albums have always felt decidedly like low-key side projects, private little affairs that he tinkers on during his downtime for his own enjoyment rather than writing them as any kind of personal statements or in order to establish a solid ground around himself outside his band. The Eraser is the closest he's come to a record that stands on its own two feet as a piece of work rather than something only the biggest fans should seek to obtain out of completionist habit; it has a cohesive vision, carries a captivating atmosphere and generally feels like an album with intent behind it (though much of that impression may just come from its weightier promotional presence under XL rather than Yorke chucking the music in the internet with no warning like with his other albums). It's a good piece of extracurricular material for Radiohead scholars, but also something one might want to come back to from time to time due to its own qualities as well.
Physically: Gatefold design, which unfolds into a streched-out multi-panel piece depicting London being washed by the flood which starts from the front cover. It's a really wonderful piece of artwork; almost great enough that you'd be willing to forgive that there's no liner notes beyond the (minimal) credits and dedications/thank yous in the sleeve that holds the CD.