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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Thom Yorke: Tomorrow's Modern Boxes


1) A Brain In A Bottle; 2) Guess Again!; 3) Interference; 4) The Mother Lode; 5) Truth Ray; 6) There Is No Ice (For My Drink); 7) Pink Section; 8) Nose Grows Some.

General verdict: Electronic sludge that mostly just shuts off brain cells, rather than properly depress them.

People tend to like the word "tomorrow", and people tend to like the word "modern", so even if the meaning behind the title of Thom Yorke's second album is that the people of today and of tomorrow have traded in their liberties and creativity for «living in boxes» (one possible inter­pretation), it can still create vaguely positive associations in the minds of people, particularly those people who still think of Radiohead and its frontman in 2014 as being on the cutting edge of modern music, despite the fact that more than twenty years now separate them from the day when ʽCreepʼ first made a bit of a difference.

In reality, though, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes is little more than just a side companion to The King Of Limbs, just with all of the band's playing replaced by programmed electronics. And this time around, there is no saving grace in the form of gorgeously lilting vocal melodies that occa­sionally elevated The Eraser to the heights of genuinely-great Radiohead quality; no, this time Yorke makes sure that most of the vocals are delivered in his trademark depressed mumble, while the lyrics are as cryptic as ever, not to mention more and more grammatically twisted ("I'm fighting in the darkness, the one that can't be killed, unless you get behind it" — gee, what's up with that pronoun usage?).

I will admit that the man retains and even amplifies all of his artistic integrity — by that time, he'd begun to cultivate a «homeless» visual appearance that goes very well with this musical style — but the problem is that, next to all these songs, ʽEverything In Its Right Placeʼ (a) sounds like Beethoven in comparison and (b) begs the question of why all these mood-clones of that track even need to exist. Same boring programmed beats, same dull looped electronic samples, same atmospheric, totally predictable vocal harmonies. Precisely the same sonic symbolism that we'd seen on everything that Radiohead had been doing for the previous 14 years. No development whatsoever: every song ends exactly the way it began, completely static throughout. Minimalism without hooks, emotion without motion, numbness without terror, and even the words literally have to be begged to yield associative meaning — like, I am sure that Thom was probably very pleased with himself for coming up with the line "when it all becomes too much, spread your last legs", but just as sure that he himself would have a hard time understanding what that meant. At least Bob Dylan, you know, used to have a sense of humor about that.

Not for the first time, I find myself at a total loss trying to write specifically about any of these tracks — on the surface, they use different samples, come at different tempos, and explore different sub-styles of electronic music (some are closer to ballads, some to dance tracks), but the emotional core is always precisely the same. Honestly, I have a very hard time understanding how it is at all possible to «accept» this art if you are already well aware of what preceded it. The same sort of problem plagued late-era Cure releases: at some point, after you have spent years and years and years slowly and thoroughly dying and decaying and dissolving in pools of tears on your records, you are bound to reach a certain impasse when even some of your biggest fans will have a hard time taking you seriously, because, well, living might take a long time, while dying is, after all, a short-time event (this is why AC/DC never had that kind of problem). And it certainly does not help that all you can think of by way of finding new ways to musically die and decay is a bunch of boring electronic samples.


  1. Not sure what has happened with Radiohead since they stopped playing 'rock'.I think that Tom became lazy and literally thinking of electronic self satisfaction as an easy way of escaping music industry completely. I have no doubt that he still thinks that his work nowadays and during last 20 years is strike of genius; Unfortunately this is far far from reality and it is delusional. Wish they disbanded 20 years ago and preserved a clean legacy.

  2. The last paragraph was cathartic for me. I've given RH and Yorke more than a fair shot, but have had trouble articulating my last two decades of distaste to friends who hold them sacred.

    There are artists with deep problems in this world, but I'm convinced Thom Yorke is not one of them. If he has real problems they are certainly not worth two and a half decades of wailing and moaning.

    His entire catalogue of conceptual pain -- all the Harrowdown, Hollow Earth, Shipwrecky darkness -- comes off as self-indulgent, drama queen pathos compared to (real) tortured artists like Syd Barret who prefer to simply tell you about his Bike.

    1. Not to mention Ian Curtis. It's funny, GS started reviewing Joy Division at the same time as Radiohead but that seems like eons ago now. A very interesting contrast.

    2. To me so much of Radiohead's music, even a lot before Kid A, is almost anti-emotional, anti-feeling, and anti-meaning. The takeaway from so many of their songs is simply "nothing really matters so let's just drift along knowing that."

      A singer singing about pain is at least usually trying to express that joy and sadness matter, or that his own feelings matter even if they're unpleasant feelings. Radiohead and Yorke seem to revel in nothingness and the absence of meaning. Its a fine distinction, but it's why I can't enjoy any of their music even if I admire the craft that goes into it.

  3. Hello, Mr Starostin. Please review Ministry one day, I would be really interested in reading that. Your reviews are not only well-written but also reflect my own quite often, been your follower since 2003 :)

  4. Jasper Emiliano Jr.April 18, 2018 at 12:18 AM

    I'm surprised you didn't review Atoms for Peace's "Amok," which sounds a lot more like the natural successor to The Eraser than...this thing, which I've never really warmed up to. Not much of Amok sounds like a *band*, but I've never considered that a bad thing, and a few of the songs ("Judge, Jury and Executioner" and "Ingenue") are just lovely.