Thom Yorke has earned a position most musicians can only envy: The Radiohead singer can follow his experimental whims as far as he'd like, and people will follow. Sonic galaxies divide "Creep" and Hail To The Thief, but every weirdness the band has come up with has been met with packed houses and critical acclaim. Both, however, are occasionally accompanied by a hint of lenience: The band made OK Computer, the unconscious reasoning goes, so this must be good, too, even if it's not immediately obvious.
What's different when Yorke delivers the goods without his bandmates and the million-dollar brand name? Not a great deal, as it turns out. If The Eraser had been released as a new Radiohead album, it wouldn't shock a constituency that's already been served three excellent, slightly out-there albums in a row. Instead of disappearing into expected weirdness—Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood are clearly Radiohead's wigged-out wing—the singer delivers a claustrophobic sequel to Thief, right down to a song, "And It Rained All Night," that sounds like a logical extension of "Sit Down. Stand Up." (That'd be the one that repeats "raindrop" about a million times.)
The Eraser does have marked differences: Without his bandmates in tow to encourage the occasional traditional chorus, those are more or less out the window, as are most of the chunky guitars. Yorke fills the void with atmospheres and claustrophobic computer clicks, and while he doesn't shy away from catchiness, he doesn't actively seek it, either. He happens upon a memorable vocal melody with the title track, and surrounds it with ghostly keys and soundtrack-y vibes. "Black Swan" sounds most like a potential single, if such ideas don't seem gauche to Yorke: It slinks along almost traditionally, and there's a even a line ("This is fucked-up, fucked-up") that encourages a sing-along, or at least an intone-along. Elsewhere, Yorke indulges his love of skitterish glitch-tronica, clearly gleeful at the idea of combining clicks and cuts with his spooky vocals. Some spots, like "Skip Divided," go too far off-reservation, but Yorke probably counts his blessings every day that he's got the luxury of a fan base ready and willing to be vexed.