Whether composing for the screen or making grouchy solo records on their laptops, the members of Radiohead have spent much of the past 20 years running away from Radiohead – which is how we end up with an album such as The Smile’s debut.
Featuring the core writing duo of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, augmented by Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, it’s essentially Radiohead with a lightly-basted jazz odyssey recharge and Yorke putting a feral zing in his vocals.
Obviously 'The Smile' will strike many as an ironic name for a spin-off from a group renowned for their long-faces and fun-free vibes. Actually, says Thom Yorke, it refers to the soulless grin of “the guy who lies to you every day”.
That could be anyone from your boss to some irritant on Twitter or Boris Johnson wittering on television. Or one of the serial abusers who until recently had free run of the entertainment industry, as Yorke acknowledges on the Hail to the Thief-esque You Will Never Work In Television Again “He’s a fat f**king mist – young bones spat out, girls slitting their wrists.”
A Light for Attracting Attention is a gripping album. But gripping in a specifically Radiohead way to the point where it feels less like a side-project than a Radiohead LP quietly slipped out under an assumed identity.
And that is with due respect to Skinner’s extraordinary skills as a drummer, as demonstrated on the intro to The Opposite – which soon settles down into a cold jam that would not have sounded out of place on The King Of Limbs.
The unplugged, string-fuelled Radiohead of A Moon Shaped Pool is elsewhere conjured with on Pana-Vision and A Hairdryer, while the We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings is located in the 1990s angst of OK Computer, with its hard-punching “we don’t know what tomorrow brings…” refrain.
Here and elsewhere, Radiohead fans will be in melancholic heaven.