The Radiohead anti-star becomes unstuck on this perplexing new solo album
Famed Radiohead front-man and indie rock luminary Thom Yorke has always been popular with music snobs.
His genre-bending, esoteric work as a member of Radiohead has even earned him enough clout to impress the notoriously pretentious Pitchfork.com, which included this latest solo release on its list of "Best New Music", citing the songwriter's ability to float "through an uneasy space between societal turmoil and internal monologue."
Pitchfork’s lavish praises should be taken with a grain of salt, however.
ANIMA may be vaguely similar in style and theme to Kid A and OK Computer, Yorke’s best material with Radiohead, but it contains few of the fresh ideas and sonic creativity that made his previous records so groundbreaking.
His latest record is, much like Pitchfork’s flowery praises, a condescending work with lots of style and little substance.
Using a laptop fitted with production software and the familiar blueprint of George Orwell’s 1984, Yorke tries to build for himself a world of computerised oppression, but his efforts border on plagiaristic. Not to mention whiny.
"Goddamn machinery, why won’t you speak to me," he squeals at the beginning of Axe.
A Paul Thomas Anderson-directed short film (released on Netflix) is meant to accompany ANIMA but it merely exacerbates the record’s shortcomings.
The film’s slick camerawork depicts Yorke and his lover as lone dissidents, engaged in a ridiculous dance battle against oppression. In a society where everyone wears blue jumpsuits and jerks around like malfunctioning robots, Yorke and his friend have the special privilege of being the only two people left with any sense of their own humanity. Thus, they dance out of step with the masses: the only enlightened occupants of a special niche.
By holding up Yorke as a golden child, out of step with the computer world, Anderson’s film reinforces the sense of cultural elitism that makes ANIMA nearly unpalatable.
Both OK Computer and Kid A succeeded critically and commercially because, despite experimental elements, they never lost sight of their status as pop records. The records’ standout tracks - Karma Police and National Anthem - were effective because they invited their listeners to share in Yorke’s vision - esoteric but also democratic.
ANIMA, on the other hand, alienates its listeners. While not all good experimental pop music needs sing-able melodies and danceable grooves (see: anything by Björk), there is no need for songwriter to actively resist writing listenable music.
"I have to take a knife to your art … I have to be rude to your face," Yorke argues on I Am A Very Rude person.
Well, if he’s so inclined, I don’t see any reason to buy his record or go to his show.
His cynicism isn’t worth the money or time.
Michael Donovan @mcdonovan98