Decades since donning a blonde fringe and plugging in for ‘Creep’, Thom Yorke still has a constant place in the spotlight. This arrives in many forms, whether it’s unabashedly comparing streaming giants to war criminals or getting freaked out by the sound of a bell. 2015 has been a somewhat subdued year by his standards, but that hasn’t stopped him from having a say.
Yorke ranks at #91 in The DIY List, our guide to the last twelve months and the acts who defined the year. He earned his spot through surprise fest appearances and the faint but hopeful reminder that a new Radiohead album is in the works. Oh, and the bell incident. To be honest he’d be ranked lower if it wasn’t for the bell incident.
From his amped-up beginnings to a bleepy bloop phase, right through to the balancing act he takes between those two opposites today, we’ve had a look through the past and present of Thom Yorke’s career to pick out his defining moments.
Photo: Sarah Louise Bennett / DIY.
Radiohead - Kid A
Even in 2015, the idea of the biggest band’s frontman plugging their voice into a laptop’s voice programmer and rambling about “ventriloquists” seems completely alien. Boundaries are pushed in countless ways, but rarely on a stage quite like in 2000, when Yorke and co. followed up ‘OK Computer’ with the decade’s most divisive record. It proved to be a masterstroke, but if there was ever a way to wrestle with expectations in the space of ten bizarre tracks, this was it. ‘Kid A’’s title-track finds beauty in the madness.
Thom Yorke - Atoms For Peace
Nine years on, there’s yet to be a finer song to combine romance with the lyric “I want to eat your artichoke heart”. And ‘Atoms For Peace’ has taken on more prominence since Yorke’s debut solo album, ‘The Eraser’. It ended up being the name for his next project, and it recently gained a slicker, more touching rendition at Pathway to Paris. For an artist whose default mode is to shift shapes, this has remained a surprising constant.
Radiohead - The Bends
1995 album ‘The Bends’ turned twenty this year, and there’s a strong argument that Yorke was in his finest form around this time. Savaged by uncertainty and racing into a threatening digital age, he’s cutting, sarcastic and crippled by fear on the record’s title-track.
Atoms For Peace - Default
Radiohead’s ‘The King of Limbs’ isn’t exactly a career highlight. Its strengths exist in unlikely places, like the sweeping build of ‘Bloom’ or the easeful closer ‘Separator’. But it was a smart move on Yorke’s part to follow the album up with Atoms For Peace’s debut, ‘AMOK’. A spur-of-the-moment project built from unlikely members, it’s the best distillation of Yorke’s electronic obsessions, spinning melodic gold out of bleeps, bloops, beats and anything else he could get his hands on. The record deserves a follow-up (only after Radiohead’s next move, obviously).
Radiohead - Sail to the Moon
‘Hail to the Thief’ remains an underrated gem in Radiohead’s back catalogue. It arrived after the frustrating, near-destructive era of ’Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’, and even though Yorke’s trademark paranoia remained, the band were a more settled force. ‘Sail to the Moon’ is a tribute to his son, Noah. “Maybe you’ll be president / But know right from wrong,” he ponders. “Or in the blood, you’ll build an ark.” He can be uptight, non-sensical, fearful, but Thom Yorke also has a knack for being heartfelt.
Radiohead - Fog
It’s becoming a routine for Radiohead to rework an old, discarded song and revamp the thing several years on. They achieved it with ‘Nude’, a highlight on ‘In Rainbows’, and there’s a strong chance they’ll do the same with ‘90s number ‘Lift’ for their next album. ‘Fog’ deserves the same treatment. This didn’t even make the ‘Hail to the Thief’ cut, but it’s a stirring example of Yorke’s quality control. Some of his finest songs, for one reason or another, don’t end up on an album. But you’d be a fool to rule them out from rearing their heads in another life.
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