Hey, drummers can have side projects, too. Members of Radiohead have to have something to do while waiting for Thom Yorke’s alien overlords beam him. While Jonny Greenwood has made bank doing film soundtracks and Yorke is busy with Atoms For Peace, drummer Philip Selway has quietly carved out his own solo career. His 2010 debut solo album, Familial, surprised critics with its folky sound. His sophomore effort, Weatherhouse, is much more reminiscent of Radiohead, while still very much his own.
This album’s release was relatively quiet, and was upstaged after Thom Yorke loudly Beyonce’d his solo album on BitTorrent, so you’d be forgiven for not hearing about it. A few tracks have been released over the past several months, but all things considered it hasn’t received too much promotion.
The album title reference might be a bit foreign to Americans: a weather house is basically a kitschy hydrometer, common in parts of Europe. It’s shaped like a house, and inside there are two figurines, a male and a female, who come out of the house depending on the weather–the female figurine comes out when it’s sunny and dry, and the male comes out when it’s wet and rainy. Think of it as a weather cuckoo clock. The mechanism, sans the folk art usually associated with it, is displayed on the album cover, indicative of the album’s often unflashy approach to its subject matter. It’s also a reference to part of the bridge to the song “It Will End In Tears.” (“We could spend a lifetime in a weatherhouse”)
This is very much a winter album, icy, deliberate, quiet, and undanceable. It almost sounds like a dark music box at times; there’s an understated chime throughout the album. The tones are low and the lyrics are dark and reflective. I’m hesitant to call it a concept album, but the songs are connected thematically by a sense of being troubled. The opening song, “Coming Up For Air,” tackles the themes of misery and a desire to start anew, which sets the stage for the rest of the album.
The album resembles a less electric mix between Hail To The Thief and The Bends. Some songs even sound like they were outtakes from past Radiohead albums. “Ghosts,” for example, could belong as a middle track on Hail To The Thief.
Though the album isn’t exactly gentle, it’s never harsh. There’s little-to-no electric guitar present, no flashy drumming, and other than some unusually aggressive notes that start the album, there’s nothing that will assault your eardrums. If you accidentally play this album at full volume while wearing headphones, your ears probably won’t hurt too much.
Weatherhouse is a calculated album. While dreamy and at times psychedelic, it never feels chaotic. The genre of music may technically be called “experimental,” but Selway never takes too many risks. There’s a strong sense of order to every note, from chimes to beats. This acts as both a strength and a weakness. While you have an idea of what to expect, songs blend together a little too well, and there’s not much of distinction between one song and another. Save maybe “It Will End In Tears,” there is no true standout song on this album. It is structured in a way, right down to the thirty-seven minute length, that suggests it was meant to be heard in one sitting.
Weatherhouse is about sound more than anything. While the songs feel heartfelt and genuine, there’s not much spectacular in the way of lyrics. No chorus stands out, few lyrics are particularly memorable, and there’s an inordinate amount of clichés present within them. Selway is not a bad songwriter, but isn’t going to replace Yorke as the lead force of Radiohead anytime soon.
The biggest thing working against Selway is also one of the biggest things that makes Weatherhouse familiar: it sounds like a Radiohead album. While it provides a connection for fans to make an easy comparison, it doesn’t quite stack up against the Radiohead catalog. While Selway is a good singer and an okay lyricist, it’s hard to listen to the album without occasionally wondering what, for example, a strong personality like Yorke would add to it. A band like Radiohead is more than the sum of its parts. Philip Selway claims this album has helped him find his voice, but I’d suggest he’s not quite done searching yet.
While Weatherhouse isn’t particularly memorable, it’s a good enough album to help tide Radiohead fans over until their next release… or at least Selway’s next solo album, whichever comes first. He’s a little more experimentation from finding a solid voice of his own, but this will suffice quite well for now.
Weatherhouse is available now online or at your local record store.