A&E Review

Radiohead’s Spiritual Successor: The Smile

The Smile’s “Wall Of Eyes” Album Cover. Photo courtesy of Genius.

It has been nearly eight years since the English rock band Radiohead released an album. Fans have eagerly been waiting for a new album, but many of the band members have gone their separate ways to spend more time with their families or to focus on their pursuits in life, away from the headache of the music industry.

In 2021, The Smile was formed with Radiohead’s lead singer Thom Yorke and guitarist Johnny Greenwood. Reactions were mixed, as people had no idea how this smaller project band would sound compared to the iconic sounds of the predecessor. 

A year after the band’s creation, their debut album, “A Light for Attracting Attention,” was released. The title alone was the epitome of The Smile’s ultimate goal — to detract from the norm and strive for sounds unique from Radiohead. Their first project had much room to grow, and I believe they have nearly perfected it in their sophomore album “Wall Of Eyes.” 

Once again, the title is reflective of this independent project’s goal and tells a much larger story in the scope of the album. The first song has elements that are whispers of Radiohead, where the listener is reminded of previous works. With clear guitar instrumentals and evolving orchestral elements, I am instantly transported back to the experimental album “Kid A.” However, many components make it distinctly The Smile like the distorted laughs and echoing synth pads. 

The line, “The trains don’t go there,” is overlaid with the quiet repetition of the words “One, two, three, four, five,” which may symbolize the rush of life. The ‘trains’ can only travel to places that are connected via tracks, and sometimes the journey people hope to embark on is not the tracks life has laid out for them. A harsh reality, but the lyricism of Yorke shines in just the first song of the album.

“Teleharmonic” is yet another slow burn, with growing emotions as cymbals crash in juxtaposition to beautiful vocal harmonies. “So long, soon you’ll be there” is a reference to perhaps the end of the train tracks of life mentioned in the previous song — at the end of the line, there is death. This idea is emphasized by the line “Where are you taking me?” as the nature of death is sometimes unexpected. There is no perfect prediction as to when or how people will die, and so this dire question posed by the artist is very much a reality for all people.

My personal favorite on the album, “Read The Room,” is the most eccentric of the eight songs. It makes itself known with this almost ugly dissonance created by guitars and a simple drum pattern. Along with Greenwood’s alluring musical composition, the 11/8 time signature of the song is unorthodox and achieves an off-putting feel. 

The lyrics are pessimistic in this piece, and the listener can almost feel the derisiveness of Yorke’s voice. “That’s how your story goes / A magic rainbow / Maybe I can’t be arsed” are all lines that further contribute to how finite life is. Even the title “Read The Room” is indicative of how people are often unaware that the march toward death continues. 

“Under Our Pillows” and “Friend Of A Friend” are my least favorites. For the former, I did not particularly enjoy the remaining three minutes of the song since it is just a forgettable instrumental. I understand what they may have been going for with the last line being “Make believe, make believe” and descending into senseless echoes, but it was not a fun listening experience. The latter song was just too basic in lyricism, which warrants it as a dud. 

Thankfully, The Smile rebounds with the remaining songs on the album. “I Quit” takes the listener to the destination mentioned in “Teleharmonic.” “This is my stop / This is the end of the trip” is the finality of life, and marks the point where the train comes to a halt in the absence of tracks. 

The album concludes with two pieces to neatly complete the story being told. “Bending Hectic” is about letting go, specifically Yorke forcing himself to do so. It’s not something that he can do with ease, as the word “force” is utilized to drive home the idea of him letting go of things in life. Finally, “You Know Me!” ends on a depressing note with lines such as “Always ‘you know me” where the artist is sarcastically speaking about how people have taken him for granted. Life has failed to offer him the outlet he needed, and the album closes on this desolate idea.

It’s hard to compete with the monumental works of Radiohead, but The Smile’s second album puts up an incredible fight. The crushing themes found in the lyrics are gorgeously disguised by the instrumentals and make “Wall Of Eyes” an album meant for constant revisitation.