There is a school of thought that views compromise as failure – that there is disgrace in the almost or just-about. Stephen Fry, for one, has described compromise as “stalling between two fools.”
But has anyone ever seen Fry dance to Thom Yorke’s music? He should try (though we don’t wish to watch him do so). Yorke’s new record is quite jiggy, and a victory, in many ways, of the art of the in-between. Yorke is the frontman of Radiohead. AMOK is a continuation of The Eraser, his excellent 2006 solo adventure (with help from producer Nigel Godrich) in laptop sounds. A few years later when Yorke toured the album he recruited Godrich, drummer Joey Waronker, percussionist Mauro Refosco and the excitable Red Hot Chili Pepper bassist Flea to transform the micro-chip music to something livelier on stage. The group clicked, which resulted in studio sessions, which produced the material of AMOK.
According to Godrich, there is an “eternal battle” with Yorke, who wishes to make pure dance music but needs songs and his singing to have people interested in it. AMOK, then, is Yorke’s conciliation.
The LP’s clicky beats and tempo may recall Radiohead’s last record, 2011’s The King of Limbs, but it’s trancier and groovier than that record. Opening track Before Your Very Eyes uses a Malian-blues guitar riff to start the head-nodding trip. It’s percussive yet fluid, and, with most of the album’s material, it deftly mutates as it goes. Somewhere along the way we lose the guitar. The beat gets buzzier. It ends with Yorke in a soulful, ethereal falsetto croon about ambition and one’s need to take a chance in life, “sooner or later.”
As far as being an album of sweet middle ground, AMOK is a split between the liquid and the angular, and the flesh and blood with the mechanistic. It’s something of post-modern soul music – narcotic Curtis Mayfield on the moon; electro-beat beads to the jungle dweller.
Lyrics? Not a strong suit of Yorke here, really. It’s enough to hear him in high murmur, though, even with stock phrases such as “the will is strong, but the flesh is weak” on Default, the most song-oriented track, about one freeing themselves of snares and nets.
Flea announces himself about a quarter-way through the vaporous, propulsive Dropped. His groove is athletic and meaty, getting fatter and growing prominent by the track’s end. Bono dreams of this kind of stuff.
Stuck Together Pieces sticks together smooth Philly soul with a Fela Kuti groove and a touch of guitar jangle. The beat-box thing of Judge, Jury and Executioner recalls the Doobie Brothers’ version of the gospel song Jesus is Just Alight. (Maybe that’s just me.) An acoustic guitar blends in here and there; the whole thing is ethereal and deep in the ground at once.
The album closes with the hazy title track, a mix of blips, rumbling bass and piano parts. Yorke is the falsetto apparition in the man-made machine. Compromise wins a highly imaginative battle, and the middle ground is definitely a dance floor.
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