Thom Yorke is wise to catch a Flea

If the Radiohead frontman wants to recreate his Eraser album live, then the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist is the man to help him – despite being famous for wearing a sock over his penis

We seem to be entering an era of peculiar collaborations. Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr has joined forces first with American leftfield rockers Modest Mouse and now Wakefield indie shouters the Cribs. Velvet-voiced soul singer David McAlmont is shortly releasing an album with composer Michael Nyman. But none of them invite such all-round bafflement and scratching of heads as the new "supergroup" formed by Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist, Flea.
Yorke is known for abstract outpourings of existential angst: thoughtful songs that take subtle sideswipes at Bush and Blair and the general rubbishness of human existence. Flea, however, is widely known for playing topless, sporting lots of tattoos, playing on songs with titles like Party On Your Pussy and parading over the Beatles' landmark zebra crossing at Abbey Road with a sock over his penis.
The thought of them making music together becomes all the more bizarre (and, frankly, alarming) when we're informed (OK, as a joke by Adam Buxton of Adam and Joe fame) that potential names for the fab combo might include Yorkie Fruit and Nut Bar and (gulp) Thomosexual. What on earth will the songs be like? Funky synthetic soundtracks with titles like The Existential Uselessness of Being (Although That Waitress Over There Is Pretty Hot)? Abstract gay-disco anthems that ponder the future of Russia while chanting "Wave your willies in the air?"

It's not unknown for musicians with otherwise highbrow reputations to let off some silly steam now and then. Nick Cave's Grinderman project was an excuse for the Australian dark lord to pen songs with titles like No Pussy Blues and mention "sheilas" in interviews. And New York superbore crooner Billy Joel recently performed Black Sabbath covers while pouring water over his head.
However, we should probably stop being appalled (or excited). Flea's cartoon reputation is derived from the Chilis' early years, when they took lots of drugs and were exceedingly silly. In recent years, the band, and especially their bassist, have become serious, esteemed musos. Flea teaches bass and indulges in serious noodling onstage. Chat to him – as I was once lucky enough to do – and the man behind the goofy facade is able to enthuse about Miles Davis and Stockhausen as much as the Minutemen and Gang of Four. Although Flea is primarily known for big funky slap bass, he can do it all – crucially for Yorke, you could make a serious case for him being the best bass player in the world.

If Yorke wants someone to recreate the noises on his Eraser solo album (as he has suggested) then Flea is the man to do it. The other musicians mooted – American super-drummer Joey Waronker, master percussionist/vibes man Mauro Refosco and Radiohead producer and "sixth member" Nigel Godrich – suggests that Thomosexual, Fleapit, Thom Yorke's Big Crock, or whatever they end up being called, will be a serious – even furrowed-browed – project.
What it all means for Radiohead is equally intriguing. They're all embarking on solo projects, and Yorke has hinted that they might not make another proper album. But who knows, Yorke's (temporary) distraction might give them a whole new direction. Without their serious, pensive, intellectual frontman at the mic, they might even get to goof around and write some songs about hot chicks and gazongers. They might even start wearing socks over their willies.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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