Supergroup. The word is imbued with so much value: Negative, positive, but either way tied up with history.
For every truly successful supergroup, there are many more that fail to make the grade. For every ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ and ‘Velvet Revolver’ there are dozens of ‘Chickenfoot’s: The biggest problem facing them is largely the preconceptions people have of the album before any music has even been released.
This is certainly the case with ‘Amok’ by the latest addition to the supergroup fold, Atoms For Peace: a combination of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and their producer Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker of R.E.M on drums, backed up by Brazilian Mauro Refosco on percussion and finally rounded out by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea. It is incredibly hard to come to this album without a preconception of what you think it will sound like. Personally, I was looking forward to a disc reflecting Refosco and Flea’s efforts more, a funky, worldly feeling record. That is not what this album is: it is quite clearly an album largely driven by Yorke (and perhaps by a group of bandmates in awe of the Radiohead frontman or just huge fans.)
That being said, minor personal disappointments aside, this is a really good album-you just need to know what you’re getting yourself into. One other important thing to note is the importance of sound quality to this record. Your laptop is not going to do this justice. Neither will your standard iPod headphones. For better or worse, this is an album that really needs to be listed to on quality headphones or speakers, or you will miss half of the layers that make this album so complex. Electronic, pulsating and atmospheric at times, the complexities see Amok bear an uncanny resemblance to the Radiohead’s last effort, 2011’s King Of Limbs. Tracks like ‘Dropped’, ‘Unless’ and ‘Judge Jury and Executioner’ capture the essence of what made that album (and Radiohead’s recent sound) so popular and successful. Amok isn’t just an album of King of Limbs leftovers though, ‘Stuck Together Pieces’ and ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ lean more heavily towards the sound of ‘The Eraser’ (which you would expect given this group first came together to perform tracks from Yorke’s first solo album.) The sound is also developed more in title track, ‘Amok’, which hints at what the record could have been if Flea’s contribution had been more integral.
Amok is a good album and fans of Radiohead’s recent career will be by happy with it. Atoms For Peace contains some very talented musicians and have created a very talented album but there is a feeling with this album that they haven’t gelled as well as they should have. This does leave the listener feeling they are only as good as the sum of their parts and sometimes not even that good. Hopefully this group’s future will see each member express themselves more obviously and Atoms for Peace take on a more distinctive identity.