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POP MUSIC | Record Rack

An Atmospheric Detour for Radiohead

** 1/2 RADIOHEAD, "Kid A," Capitol

October 01, 2000|RICHARD CROMELIN

When it released "OK Computer" in 1997, Radiohead seemed ready to conquer the world. The album capped the English band's development with a heady, jarring mix of classic pop-song form, dissonant contemporary edge and singer Thom Yorke's Bowie-like ability to articulate the alienation of the times.

But judging from "Kid A" (due in stores Tuesday), it looks as if they aren't into rock world domination after all. If you saw last year's Radiohead tour film, "Meeting People Is Easy," which documented how miserable Yorke and company were with fame, you probably won't be surprised at that news.

"Kid A" should ease the pressure, all right. In it, Radiohead gives itself over almost entirely to its impressionistic side, jettisoning the Beatles-proportioned frameworks and Yorke's prominent vocals for a free-floating, fragmented mood piece.

Guitars are demoted, and Yorke's singing is distant and dreamy, or buried deep in the music's tissue, or electronically transformed into something mechanical. Radiohead assembles its environment with a pastiche of drum-and-bass, sound collage, drifting orchestrations, ghostly atmospheres and arctic ambience.

The record's stark beauty fully captures the melancholy that is part of the Radiohead makeup, but these structures don't offer the balancing hope and redemption that the band summoned in its grand rock anthems. It's hard to picture anything here following "Creep" or "Karma Police" into the mainstream modern-rock vocabulary. Maybe "How to Disappear Completely," an acoustic guitar ballad that features Yorke denying the reality of perception in full, natural voice. Or "Optimistic," one of the few times the electric guitar is aired out.

So is this daring or indulgent?

Well, it's not exactly the bold gesture of Bowie's shift to electronic music in "Low." Radiohead's excursion is texturally inviting, but it doesn't go anyplace that many experimentally minded record makers haven't been before.

Sounds like a side trip. Let's hope.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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