Sadly, history failed to record whether Nostradamus was a smug man as well as an insightful one. Yet there must be a part of Thom Yorke – maybe he isn’t aware of it even within himself – that looks at the world that has revealed itself in the two-decades since the release of Radiohead’s breakthrough third album, ‘OK Computer’, and thinks, “told you so”.
No longer melodic soothsaying. The world that Yorke predicted in 1997 – one of rampant consumerism, social alienation and emotional isolation – has come to pass. Into said landscape comes Yorke’s third solo album, ‘ANIMA’. It’s been reported that the record was inspired by Flying Lotus, specifically the LA musician’s use of improvised loops when performing live. Yorke would send the albums producer and long-time collaborator Nigel Godrich long, rambling sound files of twitchy electronica and itchy yet spatial sound collages. Godrich would cut said files into songs and Yorke would write the lyrics. The result is a record that doesn’t just prophesize the end of the world, but suggests that it may well be already here.
There’s little hope in ‘ANIMA’. Little in the way of joy. It sounds exactly like a record trying to say something about 2019 should sound. Often the record approaches the realm of the atonal. The song ‘The Axe’ owes much to Yorke’s challenging work on last year’s Suspiria soundtrack. ‘Impossible Knots’ recalls the caustic experiments that Portishead have conducted in recent times. And yet – thanks to the extraordinary voice that’s long defined Yorke’s career – there’s grace here too. ‘Twist’ could be an ‘In Rainbows’-era Radiohead song, while midway through the record there’s a song called ‘Dawn Chorus’. In many ways it’s ‘ANIMA’’s signature song. It, at once, sounds completely resigned, absolutely world weary, while also unparalleled in its beauty. It evokes visions of flowers growing on a rubbish dump.
And yet there’s no question that ‘ANIMA’ is a record that looks at the world it’s been born into with disgust. It’s filled with songs that sound like they were written just after breaking point. Closer ‘Runwayaway’, as well as being notable for featuring some blues guitar that is uncharacteristically pretty for a record baring just Yorke’s name, is best described as an audio interpretation of what insanity sounds like. It’s like a lullaby written during a fever dream, with snippets of strange sci-fi tinged samples creeping in and out of the composition. Yorke’s enduring fascination with dreams again works itself into the DNA of the record. ‘ANIMA’ was launched with an innovative viral marketing campaign that has seen strange adverts surface across the globe, purportedly placed by a company called ‘Anima Technologies’, that promote a ‘dream recovery service’.
Fittingly, there’s shades of the 2007 videogame Portal here. A bit of Blade Runner. It’s hard to hear these songs without thinking of the bleached white film sets so often seen in Kubrick movies. Anything that depicts a broken future, where humanity has been traded in for progress, and still we lost. You know what? It might be worth listening – really listening – to what Thom Yorke has to say.