Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien was 51 by the time he’d readied this, his first solo album. Even though he’d been writing his own material since the making of OK Computer almost a quarter of a century earlier, a couple of things slowed his path towards turning his ideas into songs. One was confidence. “I didn’t know how to write,” he tells Apple Music. “I had lots of little musical motifs, but, kind of ridiculously, I don’t know why I didn’t ever sit down with Thom [Yorke] and say, ‘How do you do it?’ And anything that I started writing, it was like, ‘Well, it’s not as good as “Street Spirit.”’” The other was family—which wasn’t an obstacle as much as an involving step in O’Brien becoming a songwriter. “I wanted to be a dad,” he says. “Most people in our game, it’s like the art comes first: ‘I am a fucking artist and that rides roughshod over everything.’ I say this to people all the time: Don’t be scared of being a parent, and don’t be scared that whilst your children are young your creative output isn’t as great as it was. Because I believe that in the long run, you feed that humanity back into your music. For me, it was like a mirror on all my weaknesses. And I had to sort my shit out—it wasn’t easy, but you have to do it. Being an artist, that humanity is really important. It feeds your art and it nourishes you in a way that gives you longevity.”
It’s no surprise then that Earth pulses with life’s many moods and tones, beginning with the percolating rhythms and guitar growls of “Shangri-La” before eventually falling to a gentle, hushed close with the Laura Marling-assisted “Cloak of the Night.” In between, O’Brien is seething at the 2007-8 financial crisis (“Banksters”), but the prevailing mood is positivity as he considers solidarity, hope, and mortality. He may have taken his time to get here, but O’Brien’s restless sense of musical adventure ensures Earth never sounds wearied—“Brasil” alone travels from pastoral folk to dance-tent euphoria in little more than eight minutes. And the spiky agitation of “Banksters” might even have Thom Yorke wondering why his bandmate didn’t break out those little motifs a bit sooner.