There's been a group out there defending Thom Yorke for 15 years now. They're a hardy but dwindling lot, holding the line as fickle fans became more and more disinterested watching the increasingly inscrutable Radiohead frontman float off into the ambient atmosphere under the spell of Flying Lotus and Modeselektor.
Yorke's second solo album certainly won't slow the erosion. In fact, "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes" most likely will be remembered more for the way it was released than for the music it actually contains (a growing theme as more big artists look for splashy new distribution models).
Yorke and longtime producer Nigel Godrich announced Friday they'd be releasing "Boxes" as a bundle on BitTorrent, the latest in a growing line of guerrilla releases from Yorke and his cohorts. Remember the pay-what-you-want sales model for Radiohead's "In Rainbows"?
"Boxes" gives fans eight songs and a video for the happy price of $6. Yorke and Godrich hope it will offer a model for other artists.
All of this is interesting. Unfortunately, it's more interesting than the bedroom electronica Yorke offers on "Boxes."
The great thing about Thom Yorke, his defenders say, is he's always doing something different. You can never guess what a Radiohead album will sound like before it's released. Yorke's first solo album, 2006's "The Eraser," also marked new territory.
This time around Yorke draws a straight line from his previous work. There's little to distinguish the music here from some of the more spacey pieces on "The Eraser" and Radiohead's last album, "The King of Limbs." And more and more the blasphemous disenchanted, who dislike the difficult, processed vocals – now completely buried in the mix – and Yorke's decision to leave rock 'n' roll behind, seem to have a point.
Opener "A Brain in a Bottle" is as close as Yorke and Godrich get to conventional song structure. "Guess Again!" and "The Mother Lode" carry some of the textures of Yorke's most interesting creations, with elastic bass backbeats and paranormal piano, but neither song ever rises above its looping drum beat.
"Interference" revisits the dark feeling of alienation laid down so brilliantly on "Kid A" and "Amnesiac." ''The ground may open up and swallow us in an instant, an instant," Yorke sings, "But I don't have the right, to interfere, to interfere." Midway through the album, though, Yorke starts to disappear behind the loops and electronic skitters and skips.
In the end, it all feels familiar. But his back catalog is filled with songs worthy of your personal playlist. There's little here worth adding.