RADIOHEAD'S Thom Yorke began laying out the clues months ago, leaving word on various band websites and fan bulletin boards about a fresh batch of songs being written and new music being recorded. Everyone assumed he was talking about the highly anticipated follow-up to the groundbreaking modern-rock quintet's 2003 album "Hail to the Thief." But the Radiohead fan universe turned upside down last weekend when the singer announced on the band's merchandising website that he'll be putting out his debut solo album, "The Eraser," in July.
"It really did take everybody by surprise," says Kris Chen, senior vice president of artists & repertoire for XL Recordings, which is putting out "The Eraser."
Radiohead's management brokered a deal in late January/early February with the indie label, home to acts including Devendra Banhart, the White Stripes and Dizzee Rascal. "Everybody involved was able to keep it under wraps for a while," says Chen.
Yorke, in his typically punctuation- and grammar-liberated style, noted in the Web posting that the Nigel Godrich-produced album "was fun and quick to do. inevitably, it is more beats and electronics. no its not a radiohead record. as you know the band are now touring and writing stuff and getting to a good space so i want no crap about me being a traitor or whatever splitting up blah blah ... "
Since the announcement, some fans have grown dismayed at the idea of pop's most inscrutable poet of ennui releasing what some fear might be an indulgent electronica album. Chen, however, is at pains to banish the notion.
"Contrary to what some people are posting on bulletin boards, it's not 'Thom's techno record,' " he says. "It is well-composed, beautifully thought-out and song-based. Thom's voice and lyrics are unmistakable. That said, it's not as if you're going to hear the more guitar-based angle of, say, 'The Bends.' "
One of Yorke's new songs, "Black Swan," will play over the closing credits in Richard Linklater's animated sci-fi film, "A Scanner Darkly," which hits theaters in July.
Until then, Yorke completists can stay current via the album's interactive -- and spookily atmospheric -- website, theeraser.net.
"That's crucial in keeping up the dialogue with Thom's fans -- there's an invitation to keep coming back," Chen says. "Since the site launched last week, it's gone through changes every day. We're trying to get music across to people outside the tried-and-true norm."
As for Radiohead, the band kicked off its first tour since 2004 in Copenhagen earlier this month and debuted eight new songs from the forthcoming album, which Yorke described to Britain's NME magazine as more "terrifying" than "OK Computer." A release date has not been announced.
Stage fright for Annie Lennox?
IT'S shaping up to be quite a year for Annie Lennox. This week, she will be in Los Angeles for ASCAP's 23rd Annual Pop Music Awards to pick up the organization's Founders Award, presented in past years to Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young. Later this year, she will be given three separate fellowships, including one from the Royal Academy of Music in London.
The Scottish singer is a bit perplexed by the accolades. "It's odd. I've got fruit falling off of trees -- better not lie down under the tree. It's shocking, really. ... I wonder what I did?" What she's done is plenty. It's been 23 years since "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" made the Eurythmics famous and established Lennox as one of pop music's most elegant voices. As a solo star she picked up not only Grammys but also an Oscar for her music.
Lennox said despite the honors and long run of success, she views herself as "a bit of a renegade" and takes a dim view of artists who consider themselves part of the establishment. "That's the last thing I think I could ever become. That's the danger. One must never believe that one is ever becoming establishment."
The 52-year-old singer is especially excited about the ASCAP award because it's a songwriter's organization. She is not, however, thrilled about watching the career montage that will be shown at the Beverly Hilton hotel event.
"Deeply, deeply awkward.... It's a rare occasion when I'm forced to sit and look at myself, and in front of all these people," she said. "Usually it'd be people looking at me but I'd be up on a stage, I wouldn't be mingling in the audience."
Snoop gets his wings clipped
IT'S hard out there for an American gangsta rapper in London. On May 13, gravel-voiced New York hard-core MC DMX was arrested at Heathrow airport in the British capital for allegedly verbally abusing the cabin crew on an in-bound flight to England -- according to police, he refused to buckle his seat belt during final descent and went on a verbal tirade after the plane landed.