Release Date: Apr 17, 2020
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
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.
Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken by the Voyager 1 space probe at a distance of 3.7 billion miles. In the photograph, Earth's apparent size is less than a pixel; a tiny dot against the vastness of space. It is through a need for perspective, to take a step back and see the bigger picture, that Radiohead's guitarist Ed O'Brien, under the moniker EOB, came to make 'Earth': his debut solo record that is a reassuring anchor in these chaotic times.
On his debut album, Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien packs a mixed bag of edgy post-Brit-pop, tropical dance rhythms, and textural acoustic musings. One of the last members to leave the nest, O'Brien -- who goes here by his initials, EOB -- follows bandmates Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Philip Selway in launching a solo side project with Earth, a diverse nine-song set co-produced by Flood (U2, Depeche Mode) and Catherine Marks (Foals, Manchester Orchestra). Prior to this, O'Brien has largely played the role of collaborator, providing a distinctive sonic cornerstone to Radiohead's sound while also serving as their six-string stalwart when Yorke and Greenwood began experimenting more heavily with synths.
For all of the radical reinventions Radiohead have undergone over the past 30-odd years--the shift to experimental electronica, the redrafting of instrumental roles, Thom Yorke's ponytail--guitarist Ed O'Brien has always remained guitarist Ed O'Brien. Amid the flurry of instrument swapping and machine tweaking that occurs at a typical Radiohead concert, O'Brien is rarely without his six-string and trusty bank of effects pedals, while his backing vocals often provide a crucial melodic underpinning for Yorke's flights of fancy. That grounding principle carries over to his first proper solo album.
The reasons why Ed O'Brien never ventured to write a solo album are as predictable as you'd expect. The Radiohead guitarist always held back due to a lack of self-confidence, thinking that he couldn't quite form his disparate ideas into fully-formed songs. Standing next to songwriting giants like Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood may also have something to do with it, both of which practically pioneered the indie-meets-electronic aughts sound that continues to permeate in today's alternative landscape.
'Earth', the debut LP from Radiohead's Ed O'Brien might provide moments of hope and compassion across its runtime, but for the majority it feels too indirect and underplayed. Ed relocated to rural Brazil in 2012, and any inspiration from the rhythms and joy of Rio's carnival is most apparent on the latter half of the appropriately-named 'Brasil', with its resonant, grooving basslines and pushing drum beats layered with sequencers akin to those on Radiohead's 'The King Of Limbs' and its remixes. Opener 'Shangri-La', meanwhile, energetically lifts and falls with tension, filled with spacey guitars and vibrant percussion.