Sometimes the inbetween places are the most interesting zones in which to operate. But sometimes it just makes for neither fish nor fowl. Godrich, again: “This is the eternal battle with Thom. He's like 'I really want to make a dance record. But I have to sing on it, or nobody's going to fucking care." Amok, apparently, “is his compromise”. Well, exactly: you said it, Nige. The cross-purpose impulses (dance versus song, machine versus human) generate neither thrilling friction nor intriguing irresolution, but a smoothed-out stalemate. Residues of the desire to make physically involving music persist: nervous percussion passim (presumably derived from Refosco), the energetic boppy beat on “Dropped” (think Outkast’s “Hey Ya” but with a scowl). But again and again, rhythmic thrust is subdued by Yorke’s all-enveloping vocals. He is simply not a particularly rhythmic singer. His style, a sort of postpunk bel canto that owes virtually nothing to black music or even to American music, is highly original but it is suited to long aching melody lines. Draped across the music, Yorke’s harrowed croon invites you to wilt into his sonorous folds of melancholy mood-texture. Now and again on Amok he attempts a more groove-oriented, syncopated delivery, sounding almost American on “Stuck Together” and even a tiny bit like “black”-era Joni Mitchell on “Judge Jury Executioner”. The rhythms on that track suggest handclaps and fingerclicks, but thanks to overdone echo, the ultimate effect is “Anglican Gospel”.
But overall, there’s little respite from the canopied dolour of his singing. Blending into the pillowy synths, Yorke’s smudged enunciation seems to actively discourage attention to the lyrics. “Default”, the single, has the sharpest definition: there’s real crunch and sizzle to the rhythm, the hook is insidious, and certain lines snap into focus (“the will is strong/the flesh is weak”, “I avoid your gaze,” “ I’ve made my bed/I lie in it”) while remaining emotionally opaque. I’ve never fully understood the term “passive-aggressive” but that feels like it might be the place Amok is coming from. As with most of Yorke’s song writing, in Radiohead and solo, the terrain is anomie, hollowness, uncomfortable numbness, political-is-personal unease. But the place where bleak and oblique meet is over-familiar territory for him: at this point the most startling and powerful thing Yorke could do is come out and say something directly, even crudely, like the Lennon of Plastic Ono Band or even Some Time in New York City.