There’s a relatively simple question you can ask yourself if you want to know whether you’ll enjoy Anima. It goes like this:
Do you like Thom Yorke?
If your answer to that question is no, not only do I feel sorry for you and the hole at the centre of your life, but I am also completely certain that this album will not change your mind. It’s a Thom Yorke album. It’s dark, it’s gloomy, it’s glitchy, and it’s apocalyptic. If these aren’t your things then I would give this album, and its accompanying short film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the widest of wide berths.
I do like Thom Yorke. I like him so much that I had tears in my eyes the second he walked onto the stage at my first Radiohead gig. I like him so much that I have his band’s artwork tattooed on my arm. I like him so much that my girlfriend often makes comments about me leaving her to go and marry Thom and she is only half joking when she says this.
But anyway, enough about my weird obsession.
I know I’m not the only one and that, for those of us who worship at this particular church, IT’S A FUCKING THOM YORKE ALBUM! It’s a chance for us to unleash our geekery.
A time for us to revel in the fact that we’re right, he’s one of the most interesting, innovative, and creative artists out there, a man who’s always striving for something. A man who hits the mark.
This hasn’t always been the case, though. As good as Eraser was, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes had as many lows as it did highs. And anyone who spent time with last year’s Suspiria soundtrack will have been greeted by an extremely challenging piece of work that ultimately suffered from trying to be too many things at once. When it was great, it was really really great (‘Has Ended’, ‘Unmade’, ‘Volk’), but like many soundtracks it was too long and featured too many things that couldn’t really be called songs.
Suspiria was so recent, though, that it was a massive surprise when Thom dropped the details about Anima. Excitement, undoubtedly, was the primary feeling. But after the last two solo outings, there was an element of trepidation too. Do we really need a new Thom Yorke album when we still have Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool to remind us of his majesty?
It doesn’t take too many listens to determine that the answer to that last question is yes. Anima is the album all Thom Yorke fans needed. In nine songs it puts to bed any mixed feelings that might have remained about his solo output since Eraser, and is quite possibly even better than that startling debut. Whether it’s the slick as fuck ‘I Am a Very Rude Person’, the trancelike and mesmerising ‘Not The News’, or the foreboding but danceable opener ‘Traffic’, this is Thom at the top of his game. It’s glitchy and hypnotic and energetic and bleak and beautiful and scary and all the things that make Thom Thom.
And then there are three moments in particular when the album lifts itself above anything Thom has done without the rest of the boys. ‘The Axe’ is a dark, dingy, and disturbing masterpiece which has the best hook on the album – it’s not clear whether Thom’s repetition of ‘I thought we had a deal’ is some kind of show of sympathy for Theresa May’s Brexit struggles (it isn’t), but it is the most powerful moment on the album when it comes to representing the dystopian gloom Thom was hoping for. ‘Impossible Knots’ is equally amazing, but for different reasons. It’s thumping bassline makes it the closest thing to an actual Radiohead song, at times sounding like ‘Identikit’ and at others like ‘Bangers and Mash’. It is also the most energetic tune here, and a counterargument to anyone who says Thom’s music is always morbid. Try not to dance to this song.
But then, of course, the absolute highlight of the album does happen to also be the most morbid song on show. ‘Dawn Chorus’, a song that has long been hinted at in Radiohead folklore, is a five minute meditation on the meaning of life and the mistakes we make and the regrets we wish we could undo. It’s bloody beautiful. It is particularly poignant when you know about the loss Thom suffered in recent years, but even for those who don’t there are lines here that will hit you hard. It’s a standout moment on an album that won’t win Thom new fans, but will give those who love him already a place to rest their heads until the next Radiohead album appears.
Words by Fran Slater.