Thom Yorke plus A-list muso mates make high-concept bromance album while wasted. Should be shit, but it’s not
“We were at Flea’s house. We got wasted, played pool and listened to Fela Kuti all night,” said Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke in November last year about the recording of Atoms For Peace’s debut album. Few words will ever strike more terror into the hearts of people who’ve never forgiven Yorke for being in a band who’ve turned their back on writing bangers. But listening to his forlorn account, in a recent interview, of his puzzled wife asking him why he listens to dance music in the middle of the afternoon, you actually feel sorry for a guy who’s been doing this sort of thing for over 12 years now. Enter his NBF Flea, a man so emasculated by three decades in the company of ludicrous man-baby Anthony Kiedis that he’s living out his midlife crisis studying musicology and jazz trumpet at SoCal and having miserablist Britrock royalty round to listen to Fela Kuti. What could possibly go wrong?
Atoms For Peace (formed to bring Yorke’s 2006 solo project ‘The Eraser’ to life onstage, and completed by Nigel ‘sixth member of Radiohead’ Godrich, Beck and REM drummer Joey Waronker and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco) is that most delicious of prospects: a vanity project where everybody stands to lose. But anyone who’s seen The Avengers will know that when you stack a bunch of ill-suited superheroes together against insurmountable odds, they usually prevail. ‘Amok’ is good.
Nobody will be surprised that the album’s fairly predictable premise is: ‘Let’s see what happens when you try to make electronic music sound organic’. It’s a premise lesser musicians have often bored people with. Yet the easy chemistry between everyone on ‘Amok’ means that more often than not the record is beautiful. Latter-period Radiohead sounds like a bunch of gifted technicians awkwardly trying to outdo each other. The best bits here sound fluid and relaxed.
Of the ‘proper’ songs, ‘Judge, Jury And Executioner’ recalls the skittishness of Radiohead’s ‘Lotus Flower’, but does it better, while ‘Default’ is very nearly equal to the brilliant ‘Harrowdown Hill’ from ‘The Eraser’. Intriguingly, all the band members shine on their own particular bit. ‘Dropped’ sees Refosco take Afrobeat rhythms head-on. The bouncing bass on ‘Reverse Running’ recalls what made Flea so charming on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ more tolerable moments. Waronker holds these elements together with understated aplomb. Godrich, as usual, makes things sound lovely.
Getting stoned with celebrity friends while listening to Afrobeat must be a lot of fun when you’re an A-lister. But this goes way beyond bromance: away from the confines of their stagnant, perhaps loveless marriages, these men are making beautiful music together.