This first major album release of the year has been more problem than pleasure so far.
And after all the confusion, I still don’t know what to think of this Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Nigel Goodrich (longtime Radiohead producer) collaboration.
Atoms For Peace were supposed to drop their first album Amok back in January. It got pushed back. It got pushed back again till February. Then it got dropped until the end of February. February 26, 2013 it finally released.
After hearing a couple of early cuts — “Judge, Jury and Executioner” and “Default” — I had half an article written about how Thom Yorke was obviously controlling the show here, as it sounded like an extension of his solo work (also “Atoms for Peace” is a title of a song from said solo work), and that Oysterhead, for example, was a far superior supergroup.
Those first two tracks include typical Yorke falsetto without the rest of Radiohead to pushing him into ecstatic frenzy. They are sparse (though “JJE” has solid catchy rhythm). I wondered why Flea was there at all. One of the great rock bassists of our times undervalued. Underused. There is no bounce. No thump.
Not to say the songs are bad — I can dig them — it’s driving-at-night music. But was Flea the right person for the band? Was collaboration necessary at all? Why bother with someone who brings a jarringly different musical style if you have a vision that isn’t about to be altered?
Stepping back for a moment…
One of my favorite supergroup collaborations of this type was Oysterhead: Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Les Claypool of Primus and The Police drummer Stewart Copeland. These dudes got together for one jammy, super-weird album called The Grand Pecking Order and called it a day. What was supposed to be a one-off show turned into a free-flow of traded riffs over insane chants. That’s collaboration: a back-and-forth jam session.
Example… Here are the live and studio versions of a fuzzy, obviously Trey-influenced, fave of mine — “Radon Balloon”. And here’s an absolutely raucous Les song, “Pseudo Suicide“. (Copeland, of course, tears through everything.)
Yorke fans are gonna dig Amok. But I wasn’t entirely sure how legions of loyal Chili Pepper steppers would ingest the tunes (though Flea has done some strange solo work himself lately). The band definitely had hints of Yorke and Nigel Goodrich pulling the strings.
But then I heard “Ingenue” (video below), and the deftly cascading bassline changed everything.
Here’s that Flea-with-Yorke sound I’d been anticipating. Sure, there’s not a lot of RHCP pop — it still sounds like Flea stepping into Radiohead — but that’s more along the lines with what I’d been expecting (Flea branching out, not Yorke rapping).
The full album seemed to have been online at the Atoms For Peace website for a few days. I missed it. Now I have no idea whether to go get it.
Whatever the outcome, this album has kept me intrigued for the better part of three months now. Rock.
[ *Atoms For Peace is also the title of a speech delivered by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the UN General Assembly in New York City on December 8, 1953. The program promoted atomic-era safety education for schoolchildren and also somehow set Iran and Pakistan up with nuclear reactors (Good show, General!). ]