You can’t miss Ed O’Brien – he’s the tall fella always stood on the left in Radiohead. He’s the bedrock of the band’s stage presence, and on record holds the centre of their sound with his artful rhythm guitar, synth atmospherics and soulful vocals. Away from their day jobs, the spotlight tends to land his fellow band members: Thom Yorke’s lauded dance music and Jonny Greenwood’s stellar movie scores. “The last thing the world needs is a shit album by me,” O’Brien has confessed.
When Radiohead had finished touring ‘The King Of Limbs’ in 2012, he and his family decamped to the Brazilian countryside, where he had an epiphany while soaking up carnival vibes and losing his shit to Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’. The songs started to flow, even if his debut solo album ‘Earth’ – released under the moniker EOB – took eight years to come together.
The single ‘Brasil’ captures the full and kaleidoscopic range of this record; it’s one-part tender folk lament and one-part dancefloor banger. It’s the heart of a succinct record (nine tracks) of light and dark. A sense of zen runs throughout the twinkling ‘Deep Days’, the spritely ‘Long Time Coming’ and the delicate ‘Sail On’ – the latter finding peace with the inevitability of death following the passing of his cousin. “No fear – let love prevail,” he and Laura Marling conclude on closing duet ‘Cloak Of The Night’.
‘Shangri-La’ is an ode to the celestial euphoria derived from being blissfully away with your pals at Glastonbury, flitting between Gorillaz-style electro-pop and full-on Soulwax-inspired dance-rock. ‘Olympik’ is a rush of Madchester sounds and jazzy wig-outs that more than makes the most of EOB’s guest rhythm section of funk royalty Nathan East and Omar Hakim.
Radiohead aren’t exactly known for letting their hair down – who ever knew that one of them could be such a laugh?
‘Banksters’ is the closest that ‘Earth’ veers to Yorke and co.’s sound, with its skittering beats and paranoid, gnarly guitar. Complete with the anti-capitalist mantra, “Where did all the money go, you fuck?, it initially wouldn’t sound out of place on 2003’s ‘Hail To The Thief’, but then floats away into what we now know as a classic EOB celestial folk soundscape. O’Brien’s personality shines through, and it’s a pleasure to get to know him. It’s tempting to conclude he’s Radiohead’s secret weapon.
Release date: April 17
Record label: Capitol