See, Thom? Do you see? Do you see what you can achieve when you stop mucking about?
I didn’t like the last Radiohead album. I thought it was too often lazily and ponderously similar to the rather lazy and ponderous first half of ‘King of Limbs’, their previous album. Oh, that reminds me, I didn’t really like ‘King of Limbs’ either, but I thought that the second half of the record was just about enough to salvage the record. Then there have been his solo records. 2013’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ project was described in some quarters as ‘musical farting about that will have you stroking the nearest beard in appreciation‘, and then there was 2014’s ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes‘- which I honestly completely forgot about until I just Googled his discography because I was certain he’d been responsible for more bullshit recently- which paled ‘next to even his debut solo LP and last year’s patchy Atoms of Peace (sic) release’. What I’m saying, dear reader, is that Thom ‘Fuck Phonetics’ Yorke hasn’t been involved in a consistently great album since 2007’s ‘In Rainbows‘. You’re allowed to have your own opinion, of course, just remember that it’s just an opinion. What I’ve just said is a fact.
But ‘ANIMA’ is something else, and not just because it joins many 2019 albums in fighting against the disgraceful lack of capitalisation in modern music. Not only is it by quite a distance Thom Yorke’s greatest solo record (which, I’m sorry, is pretty faint praise. Like how I describe myself on Tinder as ‘Has control of all limbs, can consume water, never murdered anyone’) but it’s also his most beautiful, most subtly ambitious and most assured set of songs he’s put his name to for more than a decade. The usual Thom Yorke concerns are still here- digital isolation; technological dystopia; pre/post millennial tension; paranoid androids; fake plastic trees; pulk/pull revolving doors; codexes; mobiles squerking, mobiles chirping; low flying panic attacks; you know the drill, yeah?- only now Thommy Boy generally takes a different tact in presenting his usual anxieties and insecurities. Previously, at least recently, he has chosen to present his lyrics as obviously and as literally as possible. So this song’s about anxiety and nervousness? Best make it sound as anxious and as nervous as possible! This songs about how jittery and spasmodic the modern world is designed to make you feel? Best make it sound as jittery and as spasmodic as possible! This song is about that twitch underneath your left eye that spasms every time that Facebook’s notification rings to tell you that Henry has posted an update even if it isn’t remotely fucking related to you and anyway, Facebook, it’s fucking Henry, you know that it’s going to be a photo of some absolute piece of shit ‘painting’ that his dumb ugly twat of a daughter has done and that he’s ‘so proud of her’ despite the fact that, come on, man, the painting is just the worse and an inebriated donkey could have painted it and no, actually I don’t think your daughter’s mental condition has anything to do with it and it’s the fourth painting you’ve posted this week and Facebook has told me about each and every one of them and I’m sorry but I really, really don’t care and please leave me alone? Best make it sound… like that!
On ‘ANIMA’, however, the songs aren’t necessarily dictated by their style, songs about modern day anxiousness needn’t sound like futuristic anxiety attacks. While many recent Yorke/Radiohead songs have sometimes collapsed under the weight of their own claustrophobia and paranoia, sonically, ‘ANIMA’ isn’t afraid of sounding big, or sounding beautiful, or sounding epic, or sounding… y’know… good. It’s by a long way the most compelling sounding music Yorke has done in a long time. Some reviewers have noted that it’s the first Yorke solo record that doesn’t feel like it lacks a band. I would probably agree, but also suggest that it only exists as it does because it lacks his Radiohead bandmates. It sounds like Thom is reveling in the freedom to not necessarily play to the expectations of a Radiohead album. Y’know. Those expectations to be a bit shit.
Aaaaaaawwwww! Not done that in more than two years! I did it ten times in 2016.
While I’m here, here’s a clip from my 2007 Radiohead piece:
…and my ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ entry:
And finally, earlier in this piece:
One day, I’m gonna properly nail that line, trust me
‘In Rainbows’ was scandalously low, I know…