It’s taken a while, but with EOB Ed O’Brien has now joined the list of ‘Radiohead members dabbling in solo projects”. Most of those projects have gone as you’d expect – Thom Yorke‘s solo albums have been mostly successful explorations in electronica noodling, Jonny Greenwood has carved out a fine sideline in film scores, and Philip Selway‘s two solo records have shown off a surprisingly folky and intimate side to the drummer.
Now comes guitarist O’Brien, and his debut album Earth is surprisingly quite hard to categorise. In the best possible way, it’s all over the place, stylistically – there’s some The Bends-era Radiohead, lovely acoustic musings, and even epic electronica workouts.
This unwillingness to be pigeonholed works well for Earth. Opening track Shangri-La (already a daily staple on BBC 6 Music) takes the best bits of Foals, Beck and Hot Chip before letting rip with some fiery guitar riffs on the soaring chorus. Back when U2 were being all strange and experimental (yes, that was once a thing, believe it or not) on Achtung Baby and Zooropa, this is exactly the sort of song they’d be writing.
Brasil, which first saw the light of day last year, is another surprise that twists all over place during its eight minute running time. It begins with gently plucked acoustic guitar before a beat drops about halfway through and a blissful, euphoric vibe becomes prevalent, with a vibe that calls Jon Hopkins to mind. Appropriately enough, there’s something of the celebratory festival atmosphere about the latter half of Brasil.
Earth boasts another epic electronica workout later on in the pulsating, propulsive Olympik, another track with an eight minute duration. It feels like the suitable soundtrack for the strange times that we find ourselves living in, as O’Brien sings about how a “kaleidoscope will start to spin, shaking up the mess we’re in” before his guitar atmospherically rings out. If you’re after a dance to accompany the end of the world, then Olympik could well be it.
Elsewhere, there’s a lovely pastoral feel to Long Time Coming (which has an intro that recalls Supergrass‘ Late In The Day) as does the relaxing, peaceful Sail On. O’Brien is most impressive when at his most fieriest though: there’s a fury bubbling underneath Banksters – there’s talk of “boom and bust” and “Ponzi schemes” before a swelling chorus of “where did all the money go?”. It’s also the song that, together with Shangri-La, you could most imagine on a Radiohead album.
Throughout the album, O’Brien’s voice is surprisingly strong and varied – on Shangri-La it switches between a falsetto and his more usual lower range, while he duets beautifully with none other than Laura Marling on the closing Cloak Of The Night. While he may not be as distinctive as Thom Yorke (and let’s face it, few are), it’s good to hear him take a more prominent role than his usual backing vocals.
Earth took a while to come together – there was apparently at least a year of rewrites and re-recordings with producer Flood around the time of the recording of Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool – but it’s been well worth the wait. It’ll probably a while yet before his main band are back in action, so in the meantime, Earth should fill that gap.