The Smile is a project featuring Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead along with jazz band Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner. On first listen it appears very close to ‘mid-level’ Radiohead, i.e. quite good but nothing amazing. Opener The Same doesn’t really indicate what’s to come, this one is largely electronic, and quite an intriguing first song. The Opposite is much more representative, like standard-issue latter-day Radiohead, nervy, tense art-rock. You Will Never Work In Television Again features more muscular guitars from Yorke and Greenwood than we’ve heard in years from this pair. The Smoke sounds like it could have been on The King of Limbs, while Thin Thing is all nervous, twitchy rhythms and uneasy, unsettling guitars.
The more stripped back songs generally work very well. Pana-vision has a piano part which starts out eerie but resolves into something more stately which suits them. The excellent Speech Bubbles opens with Yorke singing right at the top of his register introducing a string-laden, brooding piece. They are capable of great beauty in piano ballad Open the Floodgates and the acoustic strum Free In The Knowledge, both in turns serene and soaring. Later, nervy keyboards introduce Waving A White Flag before the track shifts into a glacially-paced joy, while the penultimate track We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings is one of the best here, a stealthy, brooding track that motors along at a decent rate. There’s a definite Joy Division influence creeping into this one, one of the darkest but finest songs Yorke has been involved in.
I’m still wondering about the need to call this a side project as it’s really not far removed from Radiohead at all! Thom Yorke seems a bit looser, more relaxed here but it’s a very slight difference. What’s probably a compliment is that this album is as strong as any recent Radiohead album, and the fans are sure to love it.
You Will Never Work In Television Again