Music review: The Smile, Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Of all the creative experiments to emerge from the uncertain early days of Covid, The Smile are unquestionably one of the most bristlingly vital, artistically satisfying and seemingly destined to endure. Comprised of Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, plus drummer Tom Skinner, best known for being part of the now defunct jazz-funk outfit Sons of Kemet, The Smile nod to the avant-garde yet are immediate and accessible, arguably the most straightforwardly enjoyable Radiohead side project in recent years.
Several of the tracks played at the Usher Hall have been heard in various incarnations of Radiohead and offshoots of the band, but they felt fresh and the trio seemed loose and unencumbered in sharing them. Still, there was a venomous edge, even topicality to Yorke's vocals, as he practically spat through the punk freneticism of the #MeToo-evoking You Will Never Work in Television Again. On the track that kicked off the encore, meanwhile – so new it was introduced as People On Balconies when it's previously been called Friend of a Friend – he could have been referencing the Partygate scandal and the Platinum Jubilee celebrations directly, decrying an entitled Establishment digging in and going nowhere while people suffer.
Greenwood balanced noodly, jazzy playing with some typically elegant, contemporary classical motifs, while Skinner carried it all with some unexpected time signatures, propelling the sound on the vibrant spasm of Thin Thing and sensationally dancey The Opposite.
In Open the Floodgates, Yorke self-referentially sneered through the lines “don't bore us, get to the chorus … we want the good bits, without your bullshit” – a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of Radiohead's creative evolution from The Bends onwards, and their refusal to compromise. Yet the song was haunting and ethereal nonetheless, the piano-led melody beautifully showcasing Yorke’s melancholic falsetto in the manner of their early chart hits.
So much more than a way to keep busy during a pandemic, The Smile has pushed Yorke and Greenwood to create music that grips and doesn't relent.