Released: April 17, 2020
Given the fact that Ed O’Brien had been working on a solo album for several years, there was no shortage of anticipation and expectation surrounding 2020’s Earth (released under the EOB moniker).
For starters, there was the whole ‘Radiohead’ thing—as a member of one of the most influential and acclaimed rock bands of the past few decades, fans and critics alike were naturally curious to hear what O’Brien’s solo material would sound like outside the confines of his day job. O’Brien offered a few hints here and there (having described the album as organic and improvisational, with a focus on collaboration and live performance, whatever that means), but, as they say, sometimes you just need to hear it for yourself.
Fortunately, and maybe even surprisingly, Earth is a straight-up gem. The nine-track affair leans heavily on lush, expansive soundscapes and finds O’Brien consistently playing to his strengths. The album-opening “Shangri-La,” with its shimmering guitars and dreamy vocals, makes for an appropriately hypnotic and otherworldly introduction.
Meanwhile, the eight-minute (and change) “Brasil” slowly unravels a sparse vamp into a driving beat and soaring guitar lines. For his part, O’Brien’s mesmerizing vocal carries the song’s final act. From there, the album ebbs and flows, with each track offering another shade of O’Brien’s artistic vision.
Be it pensive, folk-adjacent numbers (“Long Time Coming,” “Cloak of the Night”) or guitar-driven, stage-ready anthems (“Banksters,” “Olympik”), O’Brien succeeds at showcasing his diverse musical interests while also managing to explore new creative territory outside of Radiohead’s familiar framework.
Given his day job, it’s hardly a surprise that O’Brien’s guitar work is top-notch throughout (even if it largely takes a backseat to just about everything else). It’s in the ‘singing’ department where O’Brien really shines. An admittedly limited range is hardly a limitation here as O’Brien leans heavily on exploratory lyrical content via an oft-understated delivery. No one’s gonna mistake this album for the next Yorke solo effort, but that’s sort of the point now, isn’t it?
So there you have it—EOB’s Earth is as thoughtful as it is thought-provoking and makes for a welcome addition to the ever-crowded list of Radiohead side projects. Of course, mileage will vary as to where it falls on that list, but for this writer’s money, Earth sits comfortably near the head of the pack, with all but The Eraser in its wake. While longtime fans likely already own this album, there’s a solid case to be made here that Earth just might be the perfect fit for someone who never warmed to Yorke’s croon (I’m sure they’re out there somewhere).