Ed O’Brien is probably the lesser known of Radiohead’s two guitarists. After all, Jonny Greenwood was the one who played the solos, wrote the film scores, directed for orchestras and features an ondes Martenot on a lot of his work. (You’ll have to look that one up).
Ed O’Brien may have been more in the background for Radiohead but his work was no less important nor much less experimental. He was responsible for the swooshing, the plinking, the ‘how the hell do you get that sound out of that guitar?’ noise making which contributed so much to Radiohead’s sound through the years.
Despite working with other artists such as Neil Finn and the Asian Dub Foundation, as well as numerous other contributions, it comes as a surprise that ‘Earth’ is EOB’s debut solo album.
Like a Radiohead album, then, ‘Earth’ is a mix of what you’d expect to hear and a lot of what you wouldn’t. The album’s opener and its second single, ‘Shangri-La’, has an intro of electronic sounds and falsetto vocals which sound like Jimmy Somerville meets Beck. The catchy chorus has a real pop vibe and kicks the album off nicely. EOB is clearly capable of holding his own in the vocal department, ranging from bluesy and soulful on ‘Deep Days’ to the most Radiohead sounding track, ‘Banksters’.
It’s good to see that EOB hasn’t refrained from kicking out some lengthy songs, nor has he been afraid of releasing them as a single.
Releasing the album’s second track, ‘Brasil’ at more than eight minutes long, as his first single is a bold move, but one would expect nothing less from a guitarist who has been a major part of an entire musical direction during his career. It’s a slow burning track with acoustic beginnings that gradually expand into an expanse of drum and bass dance beats. You’d also be forgiven if you thought that later in the album you were listening to 90’s inspired ‘Discoteque’-era U2 on ‘Olympik’.
It’s also refreshing (but again, not surprising) to hear the typical verse-verse-chorus-verse format disregarded on a lot of the tracks. ‘Mass’ is a stomping, late night jam, while ‘Sail On’, does indeed float gently through its four minutes with O’Brien’s vocals at the helm.
There’s so much variance on this album that, at its 46 minute running length, you’re really taken on a roller coaster ride. That’s not a bad thing, it just takes a little getting used to and, after a couple of listens, it begins to make sense. Why not start things slow and then dance away at the end of ‘Brazil?’ Why not have a Led Zeppelin-influenced track called ‘Long Time Coming’? And then after rocking us around one way or another throughout, why not end with a gentle folky duet with Laura Marling? It’s all a bit bonkers. But of course it is. Ed O’Brien is a Radiohead guitarist, and nothing less would be expected.