Album Reviews

The Smile – Wall Of Eyes

(XL) UK release date: 26 January 2024

As the interminable wait for a new Radiohead album goes on, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner are making music that is equally extraordinary

The Smile - Wall Of Eyes When reports first surfaced during lockdown that Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Sons Of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner were recording together, it seemed safe to assume that this was just one of many Radiohead side-projects designed to fill some time until the main band could all get together again.

The Smile‘s debut album, A Light For Attracting Attention, released in May 2022, turned out to be a pretty decent substitute for anyone awaiting the first new Radiohead material since 2016, with Skinner adding a whole new dimension to Yorke’s songs. So it really shouldn’t be a huge surprise that, in this eight-year period between Radiohead albums, that they’ve decided to do it all again. Wall Of Eyes is the result.

The mood will be familiar to long-term Radiohead fans – eerie, shuffling melodies, abstract lyrics which verge on the paranoid, and Greenwood having a whale of a time, not only on guitar but creating a whole load of unsettling electronica effects throughout.

The title track begins as a bit of an outlier, almost shuffling into view sounding a bit bossa nova, before settling into familiarly uneasy territory – as Yorke himself sings early on: “strap yourself in…”. It’s clear from this opening track that Wall Of Eyes is the sound of The Smile as a live band rather than playing under the conditions that lockdown forced the debut album to be recorded under.

Although Yorke’s lyrics are as obtuse as ever, it’s clear that there’s the usual pool of anger bubbling underneath. Friend Of A Friend may have an oddly calming Beatles-esque melody to it, but the closing snarls of “all of that money, where did it go? In somebody’s pocket, a friend of a friend” can only refer to the cronyism we saw from the Government during the pandemic.

On Read The Room, his disgust is palpable – talk of “massive egos, so big they bend the light” and pleas to “keep this shit away from me” until concluding “maybe I can’t be arsed”. It’s set to a melody which seems forever shifting, built on Skinner’s unconventional time signatures which bring in all manner of unexpected tempo switches: like a miniature Paranoid Android updated for 2024.

That sense of a band forever on the move and exploring new ideas is writ large through Wall Of Eyes. Under Our Pillows begins with an intricate math-rock style guitar riff before eventually being replaced by a ominous synth sheen, and then speeding up again towards the song’s end. The eight-minute long Bending Hectic is even more exhilarating, a song that mixes beautiful, soaring string arrangements that suddenly turn jarring and discordant. “The ground is coming for me now” intones Yorke, and he’s rarely sounded more portentous.

Wall Of Eyes certainly isn’t more of the same, producer Sam Petts-Davies takes over the production reins from long-term collaborator Nigel Godrich and somehow manages to give Yorke, Greenwood and Skinner a new, fresh dimension. Closing track You Know Me could even be the most accessible that Yorke’s sounded for years – a gently whispered piano ballad which builds up momentum to a cavalcade of strings which brings the album to an end.

It may only be eight tracks long, but each song contains so much invention and ideas that repeated listens bring their own rewards. As the seemingly interminable wait for a new Radiohead album goes on, The Smile are making music that, at times, is equally extraordinary.

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More on The Smile
The Smile – Wall Of Eyes
The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention