The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention

Radiohead boys' side-hustle crackles with wit and style...

Fuck it, let’s go there. What is art? What’s the point of all this?

Twenty-five years ago – to the month! – Radiohead released 'OK Computer'. Today, a slightly rebooted crack team of Thom, Jonny, producer Nigel and a new kid confusingly also called Tom have released this album. It’s extraordinarily good – more on that shortly – but why?

The main three aren’t short of a few quid, are they, gallivanting off to tinseltown doing soundtracks and whatnot. Fêted as the foremost rock musicians of their generation. What’s left to prove? Why put themselves through the rigmarole of cutting a record?  

I was lucky enough to spend some time with producer Nigel, at his studio in Brixton, just before Covid. He told me "…when you work with great musicians, brilliant stuff spools out of them, all the time." His job is capturing that thread, weaving it into a ravishing tapestry. He snorted when I let slip I think Thom is a genius, by the way. Nigel Godrich is the real power behind the throne, you'd better believe it.

Anyway, brilliant stuff is still very much spooling out of Thom Yorke. His voice is revelatory on these tracks, better than ever, a peerless instrument; buttery and mellifluous in falsetto, snide and viperish on the growly bits. His magpie instincts for a tart one-liner remain razor sharp. ‘Don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ he intones on ‘Open The Floodgates’. But there’s a palpable desire to please on this record, too – a will to entertain. Who can resist the title, or Jonny Greenwood beating the shit out of his telecaster, on ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’?

So I’m happy to confirm ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’ is NOT all wonky and weird, like those other post-OK Computer Thom records you forced your poor girlfriend to sit though. Nothing on this LP sounds like a MOOG having a nervous breakdown, or a robot wanking into a Pringles can.

‘The Smoke’ is a banger, as you already know. ‘Thin Thing’ – also a banger. 'A Hairdryer'? Banger. On 'The Opposite', drummer Tom sets out his stall with a truly sensational beat – put it on right now, it's a peach. He’s all over that Thom/Jonny/Nigel vibe of mangling time signatures but still somehow keeping it dancey. The Smile pull off the seemingly impossible, taking the much-maligned white-lads-with-guitars format to exotic new places. It's brilliant. Give it a spin.

But what’s the point? Why make it? Because for quarter of a century Thom and co have been banging on about how the world is going to shit. 'OK Computer' was prophetic. The gang is still here, in 2022, in their bloody element, vindicated. Duty-bound to release yet another exquisite evocation of the human condition and uplift our weary spirits with a smile.


Words: Andy Hill

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