“Don’t bore us – get to the chorus,” pines Thom Yorke on The Smile’s ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’ gem ‘Open The Floodgates’. “We want the good bits / without the bullshit / And no heartache”. Sound familiar? It knowingly sounds like the plea of that tiresome breed of Radiohead fan who would rather they keep bashing out ‘Creep’ and bangers from ‘The Bends’. Of course, second-guessing is all part of the parcel when it comes to following Radiohead, and no one saw this side-project coming when they emerged by surprise last year to perform at Glastonbury’s Live At Worthy Farm livestream.
Formed of Yorke alongside his Radiohead bandmate and composer extraordinaire Jonny Greenwood and Sons Of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, The Smile’s live debut was arguably the most exciting focal point of that Glasto-that-never-was event, showcasing a melodic, more energetic and free-flowing iteration of the Yorke-Greenwood partnership. After a promising string of singles, a handful of acclaimed live shows and some world tour announcements, the art-rockers’ debut album soon became one of the most anticipated releases of 2022.
That garage band energy from the Glasto stream is at the core ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’. Lead single ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’ rattles along nicely with a punky rush as Yorke spits with abandon: “Fear not, my love – he’s a fat fucking mist / Young bones spit out, girls slitting their wrists”. ‘We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings’ starts with all that post-punk ghost train tension that you might remember from Radiohead’s ‘Sit Down. Stand Up’ as the singer frets, “I’m stuck a rut and can’t my way out”, but seemingly escapes when the song blooms into a right little rocker.
There’s a kick and a vim to these moments that we’ve not heard from Yorke and Greenwood since the fired-up bursts from 2003’s ‘Hail To The Thief’ or ‘In Rainbows’ cuts like ‘15 Step’ or ‘Bodysnatchers.
This ain’t an IDLES record, mind. Yorke’s trademark paranoid melancholy and Greenwood’s touch for cinematic grace make for some interesting slow and mid-tempo jams here away from the rest of Radiohead. ‘Pana-Vision’ has that Yorke-y lush orchestral gloom as heard on his witchy and wicked Suspiria soundtrack. Elsewhere, ‘The Smoke’ creeps along with a subtle bubbling menace – complete with horns – and ‘Free In The Knowledge’ is one of Yorke’s most affecting acoustic-led ballads. Credit is also of course due to Skinner’s loose but vibrant jazz drumming style, which centres and drives the record – especially on the twitching banger ‘Thin Thing’, the woozy weirdness of ‘The Opposite’ and hi-hat mastery of ‘A Hairdyer’.
Radiohead are renowned for surprising fans by recording and reimagining long-road-tested tracks for records. Most notable of these were ‘Nude’ from ‘In Rainbows’, which was a bootleggers’ favourite for what felt like eons; ‘True Love Waits’’ appearance on 2016’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ after it was first heard in 1995; the re-emergence of ‘Lift’ And ‘Man Of War’, which finally made it onto 2017’s ‘OK Computer’ reissue after 21 years; and the Radiohead Holy Grail of ‘Follow Me Around’ which appeared on last year’s ‘Kid Amnesiae’ companion album).
‘Head completists are in for a treat on ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’, too. The aforementioned ‘Open The Floodgates’ – first performed by Yorke with his other other Atoms For Peace back in 2009 – is finally set in stone here with some gorgeous, spectral majesty, while a version of ‘Skrting On The Surface’ (performed by the frontman and Radiohead a number of times over the last decade or so) closes the record with a confident swoon.
You can certainly file this record among the best of the Radiohead offshoots – up there with Yorke’s solo debut ‘The Eraser’ and guitarist Ed O’Brien’s under-sung 2020 turn as EOB with ‘Earth’. It has a lot to offer, but do we just have a Radiohead album by another name here? Is this Atoms For Peace Mk 2? Not by a long shot.
While there’s not a sound or direction on the record that would shock any longtime followers of Yorke or Radiohead, it was clearly made with a free spirit and energy that the pressure of the infamously tortured and laborious task of creating another monolith from The Radiohead Machine might not allow them. In cutting some new shapes, this supergroup have been set loose to make some of the most arresting and satisfying music of their careers. Christ, it sounds like they’re having fun – or, at least, as much fun as can be had in trading in this kind of jazzed-up misery. Still, after just a few listens that seemingly ironic band name makes a lot more sense.
Release date: May 13
Record label: XL Records/Self Help Tapes