Thom Yorke: ANIMA (XL) - Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, December 9th, 2019  

Thom Yorke

ANIMA

XL

Jun 28, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Thom Yorke has never had an issue with conversation. Whether at the center of the world's greatest rock band—as he has been for nearly 30 years—or as a solo artist, he has built a career on engaging his fans through the big ideas that have defined our generation. Whether it be climate change or the Iraq War, his efforts have been well-documented and scrutinized by those in the music press.

So what, if anything, makes ANIMA different? Well, to begin to understand why this is such a huge statement from Yorke, the extras that come with this record need to be understood. The 15-minute short film, released on Netflix globally to coincide with the album's release, is the first port of call here. In partnership with Paul Thomas Anderson—a director with whom Yorke and Radiohead bandmate Jonny Greenwood have worked with on several occasions in the last decade or so—Yorke has created a brilliantly executed, highly referential piece that lays the foundation for the messaging to come.

Encompassing the imagery of ideas first distributed by George Orwell (1984), Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange), Tony Kaye (Detachment), Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist), and even Anderson's earlier work (Punch-Drunk Love), the short film illustrates just how far Yorke's activism has come. Around the time of Hail to the Thief, his messaging and the manner in which it was conveyed was on the nose, slightly ham-fisted, and a little clumsy. Now, it is so subtle, you'd be forgiven for missing the vast majority of what Yorke's expressionism is actually attempting to say.

In a recent interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music's Beats 1, Yorke showed that this wasn't lost on him, decrying the fact that, as the consequences to political games and lies on both sides of the Atlantic have fallen by the wayside, so too has the public's indifference to such poor political representation. At the very center of this short is a moment when Yorke stops moving, stops running against the grain and merely sits down. At this time, a torrent of material gathers around him like a whirlwind, symbolizing the fact that Yorke's activism has come full circle. Much in the same way that Darwin or Van Gogh would have eventually seen the public adore their work that had previously seen them vilified, had they been able to stay alive for long enough, Yorke has now reached the stage where the public is outraged by the very same things he was shining a light on more than 15 years ago.

Once this context is understood, the rest of the album begins to make significantly more sense. For those of us who have endured more than we have enjoyed Yorke's previous solo works on The Eraser, AMOK, and Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, ANIMA finally feels like a moment of breakthrough—the first effort of his outside of the Radiohead juggernaut to truly feel as though it came from the same brilliant mind that conceived of OK Computer, Kid A, and In Rainbows.

Now, is ANIMA as good as any of those records? Definitely not. But on tracks like "Traffic," "Twist," and "Not the News," this subtler, more refined version of Yorke's lyricism that prefers subjective interpretations to enforced standpoints, proves as effective in his current messaging as he has been on all of those aforementioned highlights. The soothing electronica, removed from the caustic edge of something like Kid A's "Idioteque" or even The Eraser's "The Clock," settles, much like the artistic sigh of relief that we saw on last year's Suspiria soundtrack, into a groove that Yorke should never stray too far from. He's found a sweet spot here, and should bask in its brilliant glow.

What the future holds for Yorke, both as a solo artist and as part of Radiohead, remains muddied by the context any of those eventual releases find themselves in. One thing is for sure though. Yorke hasn't lost his touch for making the timeliest of introspective records when his audience needed it the most. (www.twitter.com/thomyorke

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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