This week sees the release of Amok, the debut album by Thom Yorke’s much-heralded Atoms for Peace project. The album sets Yorke with an unlikely cast of collaborators: Flea, long-time producer Nigel Godrich, REM drummer Joey Waronker, and a Brazilian multi-instrumentalist by the name of Mauro Refosco. They’re a supergroup, basically, no matter how much Yorke decries the term. And like many supergroups, they prove less than the sum of their parts — getting the idea of putting a bunch of successful musicians together to work is more difficult than it seems. For proof, check out this selection of other supergroups who didn’t quite live up to the promise of their membership, along the way demonstrating some of the problems that plague the entire concept.
Atoms for Peace
Here’s the thing with Atoms for Peace: they’re not bad. If anything, they’re too good for their own good. The music is produced beautifully, played flawlessly — but it feels too polished, like it’s a mental exercise for highly accomplished replicants or something. Compared to Yorke’s “other” band, it lacks some sort of soul; Radiohead, after all, are also excellent musicians, but they imbue their records with an emotion that’s missing here. The whole thing demonstrates a problem with supergroups: assembling a whole bunch of hyper-talented musicians doesn’t guarantee a creative spark, any more than assembling a bunch of really attractive people makes for good conversation.
In which Billy Corgan convinced Slint’s Dave Pajo, Chavez’s Matt Sweeney, requisite female bassist Paz Lenchantin and long-time whipping boy collaborator Jimmy Chamberlin to populate his post-Smashing Pumpkins rebound project. The whole thing disintegrated in a haze of acrimony and recriminations within a couple of years, proving that egos and relationships are just as much a problem with supergroups as they are with any other group. These days, Corgan claims he’ll never speak to any of the band again: “I’ll never go anywhere near those people. Ever. I mean, I detest them. You can put that in capital letters.”
The archetypal “not as good as its predecessors” band, and one that embodies many of the problems that confront supergroups — if Audioslave had emerged fully formed from nowhere, with members no one had ever heard of before, they’d probably have been reasonably well received. As it was, the only thing that anyone could ever really say about them was that they weren’t as good as Soundgarden or Rage Against the Machine. So it goes.
The Dead Weather
Similarly, the Dead Weather didn’t suck, but the idea of extracting Alison Mosshart from The Kills to pair her with a past-his-peak Jack White, that guy from The Raconteurs, and the guitarist who isn’t Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age… well, we’d rather see her make another Kills record, put it that way.
Members of Guns ‘N’ Roses with rock’s most enduring drug problem on vocals? What could possibly go wrong?
Originally conceived as a meeting of the manly men of prog, comprising members of King Crimson, Yes, and Emerson Lake and Palmer, this band has gone through innumerable confusing iterations over the years. The uniting factor has been that none of them have been all that good, even if their graphic design aesthetic was kinda cool (in an ’80s fantasy novel sort of way.)
The Last Hard Men
The second group in this feature to include Jimmy Chamberlin, this was essentially the musical equivalent of a few like-minded souls getting hellaciously baked and jamming — only they made a record, albeit one that was limited to 1000 copies. Apart from Chamberlin, the record featured Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, Kelley Deal, and Jimmy Flemion from the Frogs. We have actually heard the resultant record (it was reissued in 2001) and… well, it’s a shambles, put it that way — sometimes endearingly so, and sometimes less so.
The Travelling Wilburys
Oh, come on now. Is anyone seriously gonna argue that this band was comparable to any of its members’ solo work?
What Jimmy Page did after Led Zeppelin. The band featured members of Bad Company, Manfred Mann, and Uriah Heep, and are forever to be remembered as “that band that wasn’t as good as Led Zeppelin.” Also, answers on a postcard re: the video above, specifically in regards to what Page is a) wearing and b) thinking?
And finally, we had just about blotted out the fact that this had ever happened from our minds. This band comprised poodle-permed bassist/vocalist Jack Blades of Night Ranger, straightening-ironed vocalist Tommy Shaw of Styx, anonymous-but-proudly-bemulleted drummer Michael Cartellone… and everyone’s favorite gun-totin’, Republican-votin’, batshit crazy uncle: Ted Nugent. Their 1991 überhit is a study in everything that was wrong with music before grunge happened: the smug self-satisfaction, the terrible songwriting, the production’s FM radio-friendly LA freeway sheen, the sheer utter risible wetness of it all. Go on, watch the video. We dare you. And marvel at the fact that somehow, improbably, the Nuge is absolutely the best thing about it.