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Super-Group of Talented Musicians in Slightly Duff Album shocker...
on 27 February 2013
According to a recent interview this album apparently came out of an extended 3 day jam session between the 4 principal musicians. And the main problem with it is that that's exactly what it sounds like.
The songs here almost all sound exactly the same. In fact it's hard on a first listen to tell them apart. Anxiety-inducing we've-got-2-drummers-and-we're-going-to-use-them skittery rhythms that never seem to change or let-up, assorted warbly synth lines, the odd bass line chucked in and Thom Yorke. Repeat.
What this album is missing principally, imho, is some considered song-writing, something that the phenomenally talented Mr.Yorke is more than capable of. I loved The Eraser, its one of my all-time favourite albums, and I was looking forward to the sequel. But what that album has that this one does not is some emotional light and shade, musical dynamics and some properly written songs with decent arrangements. The songs here sound exactly like what they are, bits chopped out of longer jams and fiddled with in Pro Tools to try and turn them into actual finished songs.
Sure, the production is astonishing - what else would you expect from the great Nigel Godrich? Sure, the vocals are haunting and ethereal, what else would you expect from the brilliant Thom Yorke? Sure, the album cover is great - absolutely. But this album is somehow so much less that the sum of its parts.
It's so disappointing, because it could have been so great. If only the band had decided to invest the time and commitment to put together a proper studio album instead of just a 3 day jam session. In its worst moments it smacks of "that'll do" cynicism. Case in point, the first 2 minutes of the album. Flea's bass line comes in and, unless I am very much mistaken, fails to correctly follow the guitar chord progression. Listen carefully and, if you have a musical ear, you will hear what I mean. I'm sure this is forgiveable during a jam session, but very sloppy to end up on a finished album. Now, I do not doubt for a moment the musical genius of the players involved, so it may be that this was a deliberate musical choice, but I can't quite escape the suspicion that that's how the bass line came out during the jam, and for one reason or another it wasn't possible to re-record it. So it went on the record. Mm.
It's sadly ironic that there is nothing on here that even comes close to the song after which the band is named, Atoms for Peace. The emotion, the laid-back rhythm, the atmospheric electronics - in a word, subtlety. Not to mention the brilliance of the songwriting - there isn't a single lyric on this album with the memorable strength of the first line of that song, "No more going to the dark side with your flying saucer eyes."
It's hard not to feel that what's gone wrong is the addition of the other 3 musicians to Thom Yorke's solo project, which I think benefited from the sparse laptop beats and backing tracks. Here its all constant too-busy rhythm parts (perhaps an unfortunate side effect of having two Star drummers in the band who presumably couldn't be left out out of the final mix - no matter how much the song cries out for it), and in-your-face synths. Fine if that's your cup of tea I suppose but it doesn't do it for me.
There's no doubt Thom Yorke is one of the most creative, talented and intelligent artists out there today. In the final analysis, who cares about the production values, how well engineered a record is, or how well designed the cover is? What's important is the music that all those things serve - whether it speaks to you, what it communicates, what it makes you feel. Unfortunately, for me in this case, the answer is not much - except mild annoyance at a project that could have been so much more. Is it terrible? No, not at all. It's OK - but that's all.