Ed O’Brien has been an under-appreciated but crucial part of Radiohead ever since the band formed in 1985. His contributions may not be as flashy as fellow guitarist Jonny Greenwood, but look to Thom Yorke’s immediate right at any live show and you’ll see him bashing the tambourine on “Reckoner,” echoing the haunting “rain down” refrain on “Paranoid Android,” or pounding away on a portable drum kit during “There There.”
It’s taken some time, but O’Brien has finally stepped out from the shadows with the release of his exceptional solo debut, <em>Earth</em>, under the moniker EOB. He’s noted in interviews that he felt he had to release the record, that part of him would “die” if he didn’t. That sense of urgency is felt all over Earth. The opener “Shangri-La,” is a triumphant scorcher sprinkled with percussion as O’Brien acknowledges feelings he didn’t realize he had before finding the song’s titular mystical harmonious place. Never has his voice sounded so prominent — so recognizable — until now.
Much of Earth is laidback and peaceful, centered around the cerebral “Brasil” and “Olympik,” which clock in over eight minutes, tickling the brain with swirling synths and dreamy lines about love and perfection. “A love supreme is all I need,” he sings on the latter. “To be waking up from the deepest sea.” Tucked right behind “Brasil” is the stunning “Deep Days,” an acoustic slow burner that acts like a respite to the lengthy track before it: “Where you go, I will go/where you stay, I will stay,” he pledges. “And when you rise, I will rise/and if you fall, you can fall on me.”
The sparse, fairytale-like “Long Time Coming” is another standout (“A lonely city girl/looks out into her world”), but it’s the album closer, “Cloak on the Night,” that serves as the LP’s gut-wrenching highlight. Joined by Laura Marling, O’Brien carefully lays down each line over twinkling acoustic guitar: “You and me all night long,” they sing in harmony. “You and me in this storm/holding tight.”
With Earth, O’Brien becomes the fourth Radiohead member to branch out and release a record of his own, following Yorke, guitarist Jonny Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway. It leaves bassist Colin Greenwood as the only person in the band yet to step out on his own. The success of all these extracurricular releases, including Earth, suggests that when he does, it’ll be worth waiting for.