Radiohead guitarist, Ed O’Brien, has struck out on his own with debut solo effort Earth under the name EOB. As you might expect of someone of that musical calibre it doesn’t disappoint.
Solo records always reveal something of the contribution to the band they are a member of and this is not different. It is clear that EOB is in favour of more straightforward song writing than maybe Yorke and Godrich but isn’t afraid of complexity. The breadth of musical stylings on offer here is also broad and pleasantly surprising.
Shangri-La was the second single to be released and first up on the album as is an upbeat pop note to start on. Bright and breezy with a backbone, it would have been a highlight of any summer festival dates he may have been playing in support of the album. Either way, it is one of my songs of the summer already.
Brazil is an eight and a half minute monster but doesn’t feel anything like that long. An acoustic guitar backed vocal with light string accompaniment offers a tender ballad in the first half. The guitar picking pattern then gets sampled to be joined by a deep bass drum kick and equally heavy bass guitar that transform the track into an electronic epic with EOBs vocal and fresh melody floating around on top. Layers are added slowly over the course of the track to develop an all encompassing mass. One could be forgiven for thinking that you were on track 3 by the time all this happens but the fact it is all one makes it so much better.
Deep Days meanwhile takes you to an afternoon session at Ronnie Scotts with jazz-style backline and alternating staccato reverb guitar work creating a suave groove that makes you want a decent cocktail and a dance.
Things take a mellow turn with Long Time Coming, a simple acoustic guitar number at its core with only minor production flourishes added about a girl wondering about her future. Mass is reminiscent of late Waters era Pink Floyd with the minor key guitar plucks and harmonised vocals creating a soft but sinister environment. Just add an intrusive synth the size of a submarine and you’ve got it.
Banksters, in sound and theme, is the son of The Bends and OK Computer. Maybe a little more on the nose, lyrically speaking, but it is definitely an echo of 90’s Radiohead. It is delightfully refreshing here and a clear candidate for another single if they want one, but sometimes these things are best left to be found on the record. I think it also confirms that while Radiohead are at their best when they keep it the simple side of ludicrously complex, to have a full return to that era isn’t actually what we want even though some say they do.
Sail On is sparse and open with an optimistic yet mournful tone to it. It provides an island of tranquility before the second eight-plus-minute track, Olympik. It sounds like a U2 and Primal Scream collaboration. Here, on this record, and with EOB at the helm instead of the Irish band it is and fun and euphoric ride. However, it is hard to get beyond the Edge style guitars and a vocal that sounds uncannily like Bono and not wonder, if this had come from U2 themselves would it have been as enjoyable? Whatever the answer, it isn’t U2 and it is certainly enjoyable. Anyone missing their Achtung Baby era – this is the track for you.
The final track, Cloak of the Night, has a surprise guest vocal from Laura Marling and returns us more to the feel of Long Time Coming for a delightful close. Ed and Laura’s voices work so well together in this cleansing duet.
Solo projects are not a sure-fire thing. Sometimes a band member’s work is best kept within the band where their contribution can be made more than the value of its part and they can augment others. This record demonstrates Ed O’Briens contribution to Radiohead is not only significant but pivotal. He can very well stand on his own feet to deliver a record that is enjoyable by both the Radiohead hardcore and people who don’t care for the band alike. The singles were promising and amounted to about half the record but any hesitation I may have had going in quickly melted away. The production is clean and dynamic (thank you, Catherine Marks), the musical ideas here are exciting and deep to explore and I sincerely hope it isn’t another 20+ years until EOB considers record number two.
Highlights: Shangri-La, Brasil, Deep Days, Banksters, Cloak of the Night