Thom Yorke's 'Eraser' Prompts a Letter

Thom Yorke, lead singer of the band Radiohead, has just released his first solo record, The Eraser. Music critic Will Hermes says while the music may seem depressing, Yorke has actually written a soul-record for the 21st century.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Thom Yorke is lead singer of the acclaimed British rock group Radiohead, and he's just released his first solo record; it's titled The Eraser. Critic Will Hermes liked it so much that he's drafted a letter.

WILL HERMES, reporting:

(Soundbite of song from album The Eraser)

Dearest Thom, Thank you for making The Eraser. It's a beautiful work, as I expected your first solo record to be. It's also full of sadness, anger, paranoia and visions of the apocalypse, which is also, knowing your past work, about what I expected.

(Soundbite of song The Clock)

Mr. THOM YORKE (Musician): (Singing) Time's running out. Because you just move the hands upon the clock...

HERMES: Now, Thom, I'm sure there are many people who are going to misunderstand this record. They're going to say something like dude, this new Thom Yorke record is really depressing. I mean, Radiohead are depressing but at least they rock. This record doesn't rock at all. I know people are going to say this because that's pretty much what I said when I first heard The Eraser. I mean, the most upbeat song is the one with the chorus where you sing about how everything is messed up. Except you don't sing messed up, you sing something else which I can't say on National Public Radio. And then you add that bit about people getting crushed like biscuit crumbs.

(Soundbite of song Black Swan)

Mr. YORKE: (Singing) People get crushed like biscuit crumbs, laid down in the bed you made. You have tried your best to please everyone, but it just isn't happening. No, it just isn't happening.

HERMES: Anyway, Thom Yorke, after listening a few times to that song Black Swan, I got totally hooked by that funky, fleshy little baseline and then I realized that this record wasn't actually depressing at all. I realized that it's a soul record, which, by definition, means it's a record about difficult emotions that's meant to give you strength and consolation. And maybe even to make you dance.

It's as if you had made a version of Marvin Gaye's album, What's Going On, for the 21st century. Of course, your lyrics are a bit more oblique, because I guess it's hard to sing a line as straightforward as brother, brother, brother, there's too many of you dying in 2006.

(Soundbite of song Atoms for Peace)

Mr. YORKE (Singing): No more leaky holes in your brain and no false starts. I wanna get out and make it work...

HERMES: Before I say goodbye, Thom, I want to say that my favorite song on The Eraser is probably And It Rained All Night, which sounds to me like a ballad about global warming and the end of the world. But it has that line that comes out of nowhere when, after all these bleak lyrics, you ask: how come it looks so beautiful? And it made me think that in all the sad and scary themes you address in your music, you're always asking that question implicitly.

How can the world, with all this terrible stuff in it, still be so beautiful? I certainly can't answer that. It just is. And I guess your songs are little models of that. So thanks again, Thom.

Sincerely yours, Will Hermes.

BLOCK: P.S. Thom Yorke's new CD is called The Eraser. Our reviewer is Will Hermes.

(Soundbite of song from album The Eraser)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

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