The creation of Simple was several years and one continent removed from Andy Yorke's previous band, Unbelievable Truth. It's a debut solo album forged in quiet retreat with rusty skills. And although the title creates equal urges of attraction and restraint within a writer, it's difficult to avoid in regards to this release. It's a particularly apt reason for fashioning cliche, because the word "simple" is at the heart of this album and its approach, and reflects both its strengths and weaknesses.
Unbelievable Truth emerged for a brief time at the end of the '90s and its brit-rock revival. Although Andy's relation to brother Thom Yorke of Radiohead gained some easy press exposure, the band forged its own unique sound palette and was far removed from an attempt to capitalize on anyone else's success. Although their output was limited to a couple of nationally released albums, it was hard to deny the talent evident in what they were doing. Short and sweet.
Since that time, lead singer and songwriter Yorke left the group and moved abroad to work for Greenpeace. Although vowing to leave music behind, the release of Simple proves that plans have a way of changing. Not only does Yorke enlist the help of some of his former band mates for this release, but is once again touring in support of the album.
The style of the record retains an unwavering acoustic simplicity throughout. Fans of Unbelievable Truth's debut, Almost Here, will feel at home, as the bulk of the material steers more in that direction. But this one comes across as a quality bedroom recording, in large part due to its limited instrumental palette and undoctored, raw vocals. Acoustic guitar is supported by cello, light percussion, and the occasional mellotron. In fact, this approach has an endearing quality that lends the record a certain level of grace that a more overly-polished release would miss. Because when some of the tracks don't quite hit their songwriting mark, at least the conversational style and intimate setting retains some authenticity.
As any athlete will tell you, when you fall out of the routine of training and regular conditioning, you begin to quickly slip from your peak level of performance. So it is with songwriting. While Yorke avoided the craft for several years with a career change, the results of Simple reveal a more spotty and less assured version of what we remember from Unbelievable Truth. Songs such as "Simple", "Twist Of The Knife", "Always By Your Side" and "Lay Down", for the most part, underwhelm. In days gone by they would have been acceptable non-album cuts, but here they receive too much attention and deliver too little reward.
Fortunately, there are also definite reasons to embrace this return, and those reasons include some quality tracks. Lead single "Rise And Fall", "One In A Million", "Let It Be True", and the closer "Ode To A Friend" quickly hit their mark, delivering effortlessly thoughtful songs. The ones that work, really work, and overall make up for some less than stellar cuts. Yorke has a talent still sorely missed from many of his more popular peers.
For a taste of the record, there is a free download available of "Rise And Fall".
In general, Simple seems to alternate back and forth between some tracks that are wonderful returns to form and then others that are "nice enough" but ultimately forgettable. It's an album of transition, of an artist making his way back to music and polishing off some skills that have collected dust. Fans of Unbelievable Truth will be rewarded with an addition to their collection they thought might never come. Others will find a promising, but not yet overwhelmingly so, singer-songwriter talent with a mixed bag of tunes.