Saturday 17 August 2019

The Duke of Yorke goes dystopian

'We are forever

That's when you don't

That's when you know'

- Runwayaway

'I suggest you analyse the words of Thom Yorke's third solo album at your peril'
'I suggest you analyse the words of Thom Yorke's third solo album at your peril'
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Unless you're Carl Jung, I suggest you analyse the words of Thom Yorke's twitchy third solo album Anima at your peril. You might as well as bake a cake blindfolded while dancing along to Paul Thomas Anderson's 15-minute music video for the album on Netflix as to expect to decode Yorke's abstract post-George Orwell fortune cookie wisdoms on Anima.

And the Radiohead front man isn't a fan of his millions of fans scanning his lyrics for hidden meanings, panning for philosophical gold. "Fool's gold!" he remarked 10 years ago on the subject.

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"It's not a very musical way of looking at things, to sieve it for meaning. It's more about feeling it, isn't it? If you write lyrics intending for a set meaning to come across, it's not art, it's just a rant. The best lyrics come from a particular moment when you've written a piece of music or you've learned a new way to play, or you do something with sound."

For his first solo album, The Eraser, in 2006, even though all the music was already done with long-term producer Nigel Godrich with samples and computer loops, Yorke learned all the music on guitar and piano before he could start to write the lyrics from his notebooks full of potential lyrics.

Even then, he might only use a line from a notebook. (You can see why Yorke and producer Godrich get on so well. When he was seven, Godrich built a mixing desk out of yoghurt pots and a plank of wood.)

Having said all that, the temptation to look behind the curtain of certain Yorke words on the new album is irresistible. Particularly on Dawn Chorus: "I think I missed something/ But I'm not sure what." Is he singing about his late wife Rachel Owen or the planet before man did his best to destroy it?

Then on Last I Heard (...He Was Circling The Drain) Yorke is singing discordantly about things that perhaps only he can: "Taken out with the trash/ Swimming through the gutter/ Swallowed up, swallowed up by the city, by the city, by the city/ Humans the size of rats/ Opportunity cracks, opportunity stutters/ It only takes a minute."

It's not exactly Take That, is it? What Anima is is hard-edged paranoid-y electronic music (stuff that is probably too left of centre for Radiohead?) with words that often defy meaning, or analysis, but come loaded with the aforementioned feeling.

Amanda Petrusich in The New Yorker described Paul Thomas Anderson's short film on Anima as evoking "lonesomeness, fear, and, finally, a hope that transcendence of some sort is still possible".

That bleak sense pervades Anima the album, (produced and co-written by Godrich). Yorke said recently that he thought "a really good way of expressing anxiety creatively was in a dystopian environment".

Before giving this bleak album a listen, read what the late deity himself Scott Walker once said of Radiohead: "If I could have it all again and be in a band, that's the kind of band I'd like to have been in."

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