Atoms For Peace ‘Amok’ – Review

17 Mar

“They are songs” said Nigel Godrich recently, addressing the tension between traditional songwriting and the electronic aesthetic of  Atoms For Peace’s debut album ‘Amok’, “but you also have to give people something that moves.” Getting this balance right is something that Atoms for Peace members Godrich, Thom Yorke and Flea have mastered on past records, but on ‘Amok’ they more obviously lean towards the latter over the former.

This is an album that both Yorke and Flea needed to get right; Radiohead’s last album ‘King of Limbs’ had its moments but most people would surely agree (however begrudgingly) that it was a bit of a bore-fest. Meanwhile Red Hot Chili Peppers latest ‘I’m with You’ sounded like a pale imitation of past glories. It’s therefore not too surprising that both men would try their luck outside their day jobs, and yet the hook up between these two rock gods was a big surprise. People struggled to join the dots between the reserved, insular Radiohead frontman and the Chili Peppers outgoing, cock-rocking bass player.

Live, it’s easier to see how they link up (lets not forget with the help of Goodrich and Joey Waronker). It’s easy to forget what a dance-freak Yorke turns into on stage, and Flea could match him in the strange dance moves department pound for pound. By all accounts they make a formidable team and I was hoping to see some of that translated onto the record. Unfortunately though (and I find myself wanting to say predictably) little of that live energy comes across. This is very much the follow-up to ‘The Eraser’ and the emphasis is less on ‘songs’ and more on ‘something that moves’. Only, it doesn’t move very much. These songs are very busy with ideas (VERY busy), and there is always something chugging or clicking or moving but oddly the album feels very static. The tempos are very samey and at times the group sound musically bankrupt, stretching out the same ideas to snapping point. I’m not sure how this would sound in a club – it could be a dazed, late night, trance like success (its definatley got grooves galore) but it lacks of the urgency and the innovation of the best dance music.

It’s also hook free. Like, completely. Which continues to bug me. How can a record by freakin’ FLEA(!) and THOM YORKE(!) be devoid of any hooks? I’ve heard this album a handful of times now and I can’t hum one song. Not one. ‘Judge Jury and Executioner’ and ‘Stuck Together Pieces’ are the most enjoyable tracks on here (and the most dynamic) but even they lack a certain fizz.  Maybe if the band had spent slightly longer than three days working on this they would have produced something a bit more impactful but as it is ‘Amok’ is a bit of a non-event.

Still, there are positives. Flea’s elastic basslines wrap themselves very nicely around the electronic textures on display – it’s a match up that few would have predicted working, but it does work in this respect. The mix of electric and electronic elements is also a success, sometimes it’s difficult to tell what comes out of an instrument and what comes out of a computer, which is the effect I think they were after. The biggest draw of the album is undoubtedly Yorke’s vocals, which are as glorious as ever. That said, it’s a shame  he struggles to find anything interesting to say, the lyrics being bland, impressionistic headlines without substance.

‘Amok’ feels like a very minor footnote in the long and diverse career of this talented (*understatement*) bunch of musicians. To be fair it’s better than most supergroup albums, which is perhaps an unfair comparison as this doesn’t at all feel like the usual ‘supergroup’ record. It’s groovy, it’s got ideas and it sounds good. Rightly or wrongly though I expected more than that from this lot.



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