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CD of The Week

Week of 5/16/22

    The Smile - A Light for Attracting Attention (XL)

    Did you know that Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead have been making music together for over 35 years? The pair teamed up back in school and ever since they’ve been musical partners who’ve surely exceeded all their teenage dreams. So it’s wonderful that after all this time, Yorke and Greenwood are still finding new creative outlets together. This brings us to The Smile. A team-up between the two and avant-garde jazz drummer Tom Skinner, the trio gradually introduced music fans to their new project throughout 2022, leading up to their debut A Light for Attracting Attention.

    Starting with “The Same” and “The Opposite,” (get it?), the two tracks set the table for the rest of A Light for… The haunting “The Same” is a call for peace and unity, aimed at the cruel and powerful standing in its way, while “The Opposite” is all off-kilter drums and spiky, funky guitar and bass.

    The first official single from The Smile was “You Will Never Work In Television Again,” the type of raw, raucous rocker that Radiohead hasn’t attempted since “Bodysnatchers.” Sadly, there isn’t more of this sound on the rest of the album but it does match the sentiment of the lyric, with Yorke raging against predators in politics and entertainment. The song title is a reference to the infamous “casting couch” Hollywood mentality that created the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.

    “The Smoke” combines a funky bass groove and a horn section as Yorke laments climate change. The “smoke” in question is from a burning planet, as “We set ourselves on fire” and “Smoke wakes me from my sleep.” The lovely “Free in the Knowledge” is the closest thing to a classic Radiohead ballad here, with its beautiful string section from the London Contemporary Orchestra beneath some of Yorke’s prettiest vocals on the album.

    The talented Skinner, not really known in the rock world, gets a showcase on “A Hairdryer” and it’s good to hear so many songs focused on Greenwood’s signature guitar playing and tones as well. “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings” is another highlight that invokes In Rainbows where it’s unclear if the title invites looming fear… or a carpe diem mindset? For far too long, Yorke has buried his voice in a mix of echo and blurry enunciation, making it hard to fully parse what’s on his mind on too many of these songs.

    The question hanging over A Light for Attracting Attention is: what is the future of Radiohead? Their last album, A Moon Shaped Pool, was primarily made up of older material the band had never fully finished, rather than truly new songs. At this point in their careers and lives, it doesn’t feel like they’d be up for committing their time to a world tour the size of their 2018 trek or even the studio time making an entire album. Radiohead may never disappear completely but with The Smile, we’re still getting a creepy grin from these longtime pals.

    Review by Joey O.

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