Thom Yorke review – a bard for hard times – The Guardian

Thom Yorke review – a bard for hard times

Grande salle Pierre Boulez, Philharmonie de Paris
Dancing like no one’s watching, with club beats bubbling under, Yorke brings a happy, dreamy dimension to his solo tour


3 /
5 stars

3 out of 5 stars.




‘Enacting his music’s organic metamorphoses’: Thom Yorke.
Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

An enthusiastic amateur for years, Thom Yorke’s career as a dancer really took off in 2011[3]. Back then, Radiohead – the band for whom he still acts as frontman – released a song called Lotus Flower[4] from their eighth album, The King of Limbs[5].

That album title, you suspect now, refers not just to a tree, but to Yorke’s own arms and legs. The song’s accompanying video was widely praised, and much remixed, for the fact that Yorke – a slight white Englishman in his 40s – was dancing like no one was watching to some high-concept choreography. It confirmed Yorke as a maker of music for bodies, not just for brains. He seemed, emphatically, like a guy who does yoga[6].

Radiohead made their reputation as a cerebral outfit, first as a rock band, and later as a digitally enhanced avant garde remix of a rock band. Yorke’s voice has been a frequently elliptical one. But tonight in Paris, Yorke the dancer is unchained once again, pacing the stage, making eye contact, frequently enacting his music’s organic metamorphoses with elegant convulsions, or its lyrics with a wave here, a gesture there.

He is joined on stage by producer Nigel Godrich on keys, bass, guitar and atmospheres, and visual artist Tarik Barri[7], who live-mixes abstract projections. There are ink blots in milk, mechanised amoebas, iron filing mountains collapsing, and bars of neon colour that gently suggest In Rainbows[8], the Radiohead album of 2007. We are in a would-be rave, of sorts, in a spectacular modernist concert hall[9] aptly named after Pierre Boulez[10], the avant garde French composer who, in the second half of his career, experimented with electronic music.

Just two weeks ago, Yorke released his third solo album, Anima[11] (his fourth, if you’re counting 2013’s Amok[12] by Atoms for Peace, a non-Radiohead outing with Flea and Joey Waronker). Anima’s release was accompanied by a three-song Netflix “one-reeler[13]” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson[14], in which Yorke’s commitment to dance was made even more blatant.

Somewhere between an extended music video and a performance piece, the film stars Yorke as a sleepy commuter alongside similarly attired workers. The initial sequence, in which Yorke and the corps try to stop themselves nodding off, is a thing of wonder – choreography brilliantly transposed from real-life movements. Even better, the film’s principal dystopian vision is undercut by more physical comedy and emotional intimacy than you might expect from the often lugubrious Yorke: another sequence finds Yorke and his real-life partner, the Italian actor Dajana Roncione, vertically rolling over one another, touching foreheads.

Only when Yorke is dancing, you suspect, can he feel this free. Tonight, during Not the News[15] – one of eight tracks Yorke plays from Anima – Yorke goes through the “slap myself awake” movements to a huge cheer. At other times, he waves distantly, notably during Nose Grows Some from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes[16] – the 2014 album from which this ongoing fits-and-starts tour takes its name (it began in 2017). Yorke shakes like a leaf, bounds from console to console, looping his own keening. He seems, within the context of his anxious, racked music, very happy.

It is not difficult to love Yorke. He is the Old Testament prophet of British music, a man who turned his back on the prospect of conventional ubiquity after Radiohead’s OK Computer[17], performing a left-field handbrake turn instead. Kid A[18] introduced great swaths of the rock audience to open-ended digital music. Yorke has never looked back, exploring textures and dynamics derived from club culture, alongside glitchy digitals and dubstep bass frequencies over the course of a 15-year parallel solo career.

The video for Radiohead’s Lotus Flower

The 2015 breakup of his 23-year relationship to Rachel Owen made Yorke seem more like an ordinary mortal than previously; her death in 2018[19] will have added a deeper resonance to Yorke’s already emotionally intelligent music. In a recent interview, however, Yorke railed against obvious biographical interpretations of his work. Even unanchored from biography, Anima’s standout ballad, Dawn Chorus, is spectacularly moving, with Yorke reckoning with time past. The song itself has been knocking around as an unfinished bootleg for a while; it lent its name to the company Radiohead set up in 2015[20] in the run-up to the release of A Moon Shaped Pool [21](2016).

Tonight, the set list rightly focuses on Anima, which takes its name from the Italian for soul, but also for the Jungian concept of femininity within the masculine[22]; more generally, it is concerned with sleep and dream states. “I must be asleep,” sings Yorke on the icy, minimal house-inflected (Ladies & Gentlemen, Thank You for Coming).

But Yorke is an artist well aware of external realities. In all his incarnations, he has been perpetually alert to misdeeds by the powerful and the impending climate apocalypse. Recently, when blackmailed by a leaker, Radiohead donated the proceeds[23] of hours of OK Computer outtakes to Extinction Rebellion.

His solo song Harrowdown Hill[24], off 2006’s The Eraser[25], comes early on tonight, in an unsettling funk-adjacent version. It serves as a reminder that the parlous state of politics wasn’t actually that much better back then, when the apparent suicide of the scientist Dr David Kelly (who found that Iraq was not manufacturing weapons of mass destruction) inspired one of Yorke’s clearest songs[26].

But the dream state prevails tonight. If there’s an enduring criticism of Yorke’s flag-bearing for the digital sphere, it is that his music tends to avoid resolution: there are smears over washes, wailing looped over atmospheres, sometimes to little obvious purpose. You’re often hard-pressed to spot the development of a motif, because a number of ideas just sit alongside each other, not really interacting. So whenever something pierces the wishy-washy fug, you want to cheer: Default[27], by Atoms for Peace, features both earwax-loosening bass and dynamism.

Although the set never satisfyingly erupts into out-and-out rave dynamics, one of the peaks finds Yorke and Godrich deploying sub-bass wub-wubs and cascades of digital percussion. The punishing sonics of Traffic, a recent song off Anima, turn into the strobing finale of the same album’s Twist. There are points, too, where you can detect an echo of a house piano, or the palest impression of soul. Unexpectedly, Runwayaway recalls the constituent parts of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love[28] with Godrich’s bubbling amniotic atmospheres redolent of Giorgio Moroder[29]’s famous bassline.

A bard for our anxious times, Yorke has talked about his own troublesome internal weather[30] and it seems likely that succour, for him, lies within the body, in movement.

On Suspirium[31], the final song of two encores, from the film score of the same name, one lyric stands out. “This is a waltz,” Yorke sings, “Thinking about our bodies/ What they mean for our salvation.”

References

  1. ^ (www.theguardian.com)
  2. ^ (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ took off in 2011 (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
  4. ^ Lotus Flower (www.youtube.com)
  5. ^ The King of Limbs (www.theguardian.com)
  6. ^ who does yoga (www.theguardian.com)
  7. ^ Tarik Barri (crackmagazine.net)
  8. ^ In Rainbows (www.theguardian.com)
  9. ^ spectacular modernist concert hall (philharmoniedeparis.fr)
  10. ^ Pierre Boulez (en.wikipedia.org)
  11. ^ Anima (www.theguardian.com)
  12. ^ Amok (www.theguardian.com)
  13. ^ one-reeler (www.youtube.com)
  14. ^ Paul Thomas Anderson (variety.com)
  15. ^ Not the News (www.youtube.com)
  16. ^ Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (www.theguardian.com)
  17. ^ OK Computer (www.theguardian.com)
  18. ^ Kid A (www.theguardian.com)
  19. ^ her death in 2018 (www.theguardian.com)
  20. ^ the company Radiohead set up in 2015 (consequenceofsound.net)
  21. ^ A Moon Shaped Pool (www.theguardian.com)
  22. ^ femininity within the masculine (en.wikipedia.org)
  23. ^ donated the proceeds (rebellion.earth)
  24. ^ Harrowdown Hill (www.facebook.com)
  25. ^ The Eraser (www.theguardian.com)
  26. ^ one of Yorke’s clearest songs (news.bbc.co.uk)
  27. ^ Default (m.facebook.com)
  28. ^ I Feel Love (www.youtube.com)
  29. ^ Giorgio Moroder (www.theguardian.com)
  30. ^ troublesome internal weather (crackmagazine.net)
  31. ^ Suspirium (www.facebook.com)
  32. ^ Thom Yorke (www.theguardian.com)
  33. ^ Kitty Empire’s artist of the week (www.theguardian.com)
  34. ^ Pop and rock (www.theguardian.com)
  35. ^ album reviews (www.theguardian.com)
  36. ^ (www.facebook.com)
  37. ^ (twitter.com)
  38. ^ (www.theguardian.com)
  39. ^ (www.linkedin.com)
  40. ^ (www.pinterest.com)
  41. ^ (send)
  42. ^ (share)
  43. ^ (syndication.theguardian.com)

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