There are many for whom the words “Radiohead side-project” would cause an instant, involuntary orgasm. Those people might want to book a couple of days off work after the first taste of The Smile, a band consisting of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood and UK jazz group Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner, with their debut single “You Will Never Work In Television Again” just released. The wry, referential humour displayed in the track title alone is prime Yorke, and perhaps hints at a more playful side of the singer, one willing to have a chuckle through the crushing misery of the human condition.
“You Will Never Work In Television Again” delivers terse, frantic indie rock which eschews many of Radiohead’s more lofty ambitions and opts instead for a driving, stripped back approach, naturally descending into chaos. There is nothing proggy to be found here and very little extraneous elements, the three-piece remaining vigilant and ever conscious of waste. The sound is a return to the raw and basic essence which famous artists only seem to be able to achieve through side-projects.
Greenwood’s fuzzed up riff and Skinner’s frenetic drums play off each other to create a sense of urgency which doesn’t have time for lengthy avant-garde excursions. Thom Yorke not only looks like an Exquisite Corpse, he also seems to be applying the surrealist lyrical technique to this single at first, belting out disjointed non-sequiturs with abandon rarely seen in his stadium persona. As the track progresses and the mood intensifies, the object of Yorke’s ire is revealed as the Weinsteins of the entertainment industry and the vitriol flies. “Some kid, in golden chains, two slippery ropes/A lonely stitch, left to be unpicked, including my left foot/Let the lights down low, bunga bunga or/You’ll never work in television again.”
While the obtuse, poetic element remains, the lyrics and music are focused and precise with the constant potential to slip into madness. Yorke’s Travis Bickle-like obsession with tackling the filth and the slime of the present day coupled with the simple joys of strings and skins provide a refreshing, potent change to the antipathy dominating guitar music currently. Whether The Smile are intending to maintain the same energy throughout a full project surely needs to be addressed, as it shall be in their imminent debut album, which is tantalisingly at the track-listing stage. More news as it happens, make sure you have plenty of annual leave spare.