When word filtered through that Thom Yorke would be making a record with Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, the mind raced. Would Thom be swapping jittery, experimental rock for a funky extravangza about life in California? Would Flea be told to put down that bass guitar and concentrate on programming a synth pattern instead? Would we be subject to the sight of Thom Yorke wearing a sock where it really should never be worn?
Unsurprisingly, the answer to all of the above is ‘no’. Although Atoms For Peace inevitably come hampered with the moniker of a ‘supergroup’ (as well as Yorke and Flea, the other band members are long-term Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Beck and REM collaborator Joey Waronker and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco), the closest template for Amok is that of Thom Yorke’s solo project The Eraser – even the band’s name comes from a track on that very solo album. So, we have nine tracks of glitchy electronica, dominated by Yorke’s unmistakable mournful wail of a voice.
Reportedly recorded over three days when jamming in the studio, and then pieced together on laptops by Yorke and Godrich, Atoms For Peace obviously won’t appeal to those who still get upset that Radiohead haven’t remade The Bends. In fact, there’s barely a guitar riff to be heard at all on Amok – instead it’s the scattered beats and eerie soundscapes that have been Radiohead’s trademark since 2000 that are all-pervading.
There’s not even much hint of where Flea fits into all this – there is the odd noticeable bassline, but this is far from the slap-happy flamboyant rhythmic machine of the Chili Peppers. In fact, what’s noticeable is how quiet – almost ghostly, in fact – most of the album feels. Also, where there was an understated anger flowing through The Eraser (fuelled by the death of Dr David Kelly), the lyrics this time round are far more abstract, with only the plaintive cry of “just tell us where the money is” during Stuck Together Pieces hinting at Yorke’s political mindset.
Opening track Before Your Very Eyes sets the tone well – a twitchy, percussive heavy track that seems to bestow an air of claustrophobia and paranoia which runs through the album. While most of the songs on Amok seem to have a free-form air about them, the following Default is about the closest that the album comes to having a catchy melody: Yorke bemoaning that he’s “made my bed, I’ll lie in it” and “the will is strong but the flesh is weak” over some portentous keyboard chords.
You can imagine Yorke’s much vaunted dance moves making an appearance on several tracks on Amok, with the brilliant Unless having the most explicit techno influence, and Reverse Running having an almost funky edge to it. It’s Ingenue and Judge Jury & Executioner that are the standout tracks though: the former sounding magnificantly spooky and sparse, while the latter is perhaps the closest we get to Yorke’s day job: a ghostly choir of backing vocals providing the framework for more scattered beats and handclaps.
While Atoms For Peace inevitably doesn’t display that unique chemistry which is evident in spades when Mssrs Selway, Greenwood et al join the party, it remains an intriguing, if at times uneasy listen. And, of course, it makes for a fine cure for withdrawal symptons for all those Radiohead fans awaiting the follow-up to The King Of Limbs.