On an away day without their regular colleagues, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood find themselves in a musical icebreaking session with Sons of Kemet drummer, Tom Skinner. It’s an opportunity to try out some new ideas, freed from the expectation attached to a Radiohead album, but an opportunity only partly grasped.

Like their contemporary Damon Albarn on his sojourn with Rocket Juice & The Moon, they’ve foregrounded the rhythm section, making good use of Skinner’s exemplary skills, as Albarn did with Flea and Tony Allen. No guitar pyrotechnics or extravagant arrangements, just groove and subtle variation. It’s precise, airless and tightly produced (as ever) by Nigel Godrich.

There’s no escaping the mood a Yorke vocal gives a piece – he could make La Bamba sound tense and harrowing – but these rhythms and textures give it new context. It’s to its credit that much of A Light For Attracting Attention sounds like Yorke guesting on someone else’s record, whether he’s rubbing up against the busy bassline on The Smoke, the polyrhythmic drumming of The Opposite, or the more delicate offering on Speech Bubbles.

You Will Never Work In Television Again was a cobweb-shifting blast when it emerged as a single and remains so here. We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings is also keen to get about its business, Yorke breathlessly chanting the title like a man who needs it to bring him a sedative. At the other end of the intensity scale are the pleasing excursions into lonesome, sparse 70s electronica on The Same and Waving A White Flag.  

Free In The Knowledge will please those who’ve been longing for a “proper” Radiohead ballad since Street Spirit. Pana-vision would have slipped unheralded onto A Moon Shaped Pool, while A Hairdryer and Skrting On The Surface could be Hail To The Thief makeweights. They all work to an extent, and Free In The Knowledge to the point it will become loved, but they’re the least striking things here. They blunt the identity of The Smile as a project in its own right, and heighten the sense that Yorke and Greenwood have simply reheated some Radiohead scraps during lockdown.

When Nigel Godrich called this album “an interesting juxtaposition of things but it does make sense,” he was right on the juxtaposition, less on the making sense. Had they followed through fully with the itchy, rejuvenated rock promised by You Will Never Work… or the chilly sine-wave of The Same, The Smile could have opened up a distinct space of their own, like Albarn has with his many side projects. Instead, this is not quite a departure, not quite the new Radiohead album.