Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Some bands are the vehicle for the songwriter: the Kinks, Jam, Pretenders, the Chills, Verlaines, Wilco, the Veils . . .
A few are greater than the sum of their parts – Split Enz, Beatles, U2, Blondie, boygenius, Fat Freddy's Drop, Phoenix Foundation . . .
The test of that is to see how well the members do as solo artists, like the Stones.
Mick Jagger's solo albums always had a few interesting songs but there was never a cohesive collection which came close to the Stones at their best, Keith Richards' somewhat more ramshackle albums were much the same although had a certain louche quality. Very few bothered with Ron Wood's solo albums and Bill Wyman got by on the basis of the novelty single Je Suis Un Rock Star.
Others bands have been breeding grounds for talent which allows members to go their own way independently: for example Blur whose Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon delivered interesting projects and bands outside of the Blur imprimatur.
The solo projects of Radiohead members in the eight years since their last album A Moon-Shaped Pool have delivered mixed results.
The most consistent have come from Jonny Greenwood (soundtracks for Phantom Thread and The Power of the Dog among them, and even earlier his Junun qawwali project with Shy Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express) and Thom Yorke's atmospheric Suspiria soundtrack and the even more experimental electronica music for soundtrack for Paul Thomas Anderson's short film Anima.
Put Yorke and Greenwood together in Radiohead and – with Jonny's brother Colin (bass) and drummer Ed O'Brien – special magic happens: more than the sum of their parts and quite different from their solo projects.
But separating those two main players from Radiohead and something different again happens, as with The Smile.
The Smile are Yorke, Greenwood and drummer Tom Skinner, co-founder of Sons of Kemet and with a lengthy discography of appearances in numerous contemporary British avant-jazz outfits.
Their debut A Light for Attracting Attention (2022) found Yorke's signature anxious delivery and unease delivered with a soulful, gravity-defying weariness as Skinner's clever jazz patterns untethered the music from rock tropes.
Songs were embellished by strings and brass also.
Warm hasn't been an adjective often applied to Radiohead but it fitted The Smile's debut.
This second album confirms The Smile as more than just a lockdown project but a band with an independent vision and offering unexpected arrangements.
The title track rides a Latin shuffle. Friend of a Friend – about people in Italy singing and talking to each other off their balconies apparently – harks back to 70s sensitive singer-songwriters and early solo McCartney but is disrupted by Skinner and a disturbing A Day in the Life sweep of orchestra strings . . . the a pause.
The lyrically unsettling eight-minute Bending Hectic -- a woozy ballad-into-searing Radiohead rock – was debuted at the 2022 Montreux Jazz Festival and, as on Friend of a Friend, Greenwood taps into Bernard Herrmann for the unnerving strings.
Wall of Eyes with its layers, detail and confidence means a double header now from The Smile where electronica rubs against unearthly echoed vocals and choral expansiveness (Teleharmonic).
And despite Yorke writing I Quit you feel that is not the case for The Smile.
Perhaps other Radioheaders should start polishing up further solo material.
Half their band has left town on its own, independent journey.
You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here