‘Super group’ is a worrying term, often synonymous with a bunch of superstars in the ‘bloated Elvis’ period of their careers, creating music inspired by how rich and famous they now are (I’m looking at you Kanye and Jay-Z) or terrible, meshed together rehashes of what they all did before (Audioslave).
Atoms For Peace are, thankfully, a different prospect, as anyone lucky enough to catch them at London’s Roundhouse this week will tell you. The nation’s music press have been generally gushing about the gig, particularly what you can see above, a scintillating performance of arguably their best song, Harrowdown Hill, inspired by the contentious death of biological warfare expert David Kelly in 2003.
Comprised of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s bassist Flea, Beck/R.E.M drummer Joey Waronker and Forro in the Dark instrumentalist Mauro Refosco (plus long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich), they’re like a guitar band fantasy football five-a-side and, remarkably, the whole thing works.
One reason is that, so far at least, Thom Yorke has been firmly in charge, and its his brooding falsetto stamp you hear all over what they play, mainly because they formed in 2009 to turn his electronic solo album Eraser into a live act (Harrowdown Hill was the first single from it). Any ‘too many chiefs’ scenario was therefore avoided early on.
The release this year of Amok, their debut album as a collective, was met with tentative approval by most, a sign that this might be one super group that finds its feet properly rather than just imploding.
The most fascinating element of Atoms For Peace is the combination of Yorke’s haunting British electro and Flea, who has spend most of the past 30 years slapping out bass lines for the generally blissful Californian rockers RHCP.
The fact that, on most counts, their two sounds dovetail beautifully is one of several reasons to feel excited about a 'super group' who are genuinely striving to create a new sound, rather than just piss about together being rock gods. In fact, let’s ditch the term altogether shall we?