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Wednesday October 4, 2000

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Radiohead - Kid A

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By Ian Caruth

Grade: B+

After transmuting a whole psych ward's worth of alienation and despair into the gorgeous, perfect pop of 1997's OK Computer, the Oxford depressives of Radiohead were understandably hesitant about recording a follow-up. So, the band did what any willfully difficult artists would have done - they went way left-field.

Kid A is undoubtably one of the most challenging releases from a major artist in memory. The album largely dispenses with the guitar-based music that has been Radiohead's stock-in-trade for three albums, instead offering a disc full of swirling, layered keyboards and avant-garde studio flourishes.

Thom Yorke's voice - arguably the best in rock today - is often processed and cut up beyond recognition. Even when the lyrics are intelligible, they are often incoherent - "Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon," Yorke wails on "Everything in its Right Place." When he does sing, the results are typically sublime, as on the gently cinematic "How to Disappear Completely."

About half the album sounds like music made for films, including the sweeping harp-kissed closing track, "Motion Picture Soundtrack." The rest is certainly difficult to digest on the first listening, except for the driving, keening "Idioteque," the album's most accessible track and about the closest thing to a single.

Occasionally gorgeous, thoroughly original, and tougher to digest than a Taco Bell Burrito Supreme, time will ultimately judge the worth of this dense avant-rock.