RADIOHEAD

Amnesiac(Capitol)

Rock's reluctant heroes forget that they've already released their difficult electronic album.

Radiohead caused quite the stir with Kid A's lack of six-string

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CD Reviews

RADIOHEAD

Amnesiac(Capitol)

Rock's reluctant heroes forget that they've already released their difficult electronic album.

Radiohead caused quite the stir with Kid A's lack of six-string action, no doubt pissing off Helium, who a few years earlier released an EP called No Guitars to comparably little fanfare. But seriously, folks: The art-rockin' anti-Britpop cavalry rode their horses into an icy landscape that felt like the Fortress of Solitude in that first Superman movie, with Thom Yorke looming like Marlon Brando, and mumbling like him too. The songs, such as they were, echoed and pinged as if coming from a distance, and all reports were that the follow-up would invite listeners back in. But nope, Radiohead have pulled away the hand, striding off in a tangential direction that's more fusion than rock, more chilling than warm, more Miles Davis than Pink Floyd. Oh sure, Amnesiac features a lovely ballad-type thing that's much more familiar ("You and Whose Army?"), and their most deft merging yet of raw beats and rock swagger ("I Might Be Wrong"). Likewise, Yorke turns in another ace vocal performance, complete with artfully drawn lyrics, in the very old Radiohead-style "Knives Out." But these centerpiece songs serve mainly as pivot points to more boundary-clawing, line-erasing electronic trickery and free-jazz dabbling—particularly on the album-ending dirge "Life in a Glasshouse," with its woozy horns and funeral-march freak-out. Trouble is, Radiohead's best compositions are too mind-bendingly good to understand why the songwriters would be so repulsed. Instead of leaving the audience wanting more, these blokes want to freeze everyone in a state of chronic pensiveness, and that ain't a fun place to be. Richard A. Martin

TOOL

Lateralus

(BMG/Volcano)

Progressive claymation auteurs aren't interested in turning fans' hearts or minds to putty.

As one of the few "important" '90s rock monsters still flourishing (much less standing), Tool have unlimited artistic freedom and multiple-genre credibility. Thankfully, they've opted against making Lateralus the self-indulgent pisspot it very well could have been. It is, however, a challenge to the ears and minds of their enraptured fan base. Nowhere near as accessible, startling, or outspoken as their first three releases, Lateralus is a sonic black plague, forever ominous and kinetic. Adam Jones' gearlike axe is nearly as signature as Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello's in today's metal lexicon; on cyclical, tic-laden epics like "The Grudge" and "The Patient," it is an insatiable vacuum, devouring Maynard James Keenan's cryptic purrs and screams and generating confusion. Following Keenan's stint in the far inferior but beautifully poised A Perfect Circle, no wonder these scabrous puzzles are so hard to unlock at first. "Ticks and Leeches" rockets out of the gate ripe with paranoia and violence, but settles into a lengthy, exhausting acoustic bridge that intentionally nullifies the momentum. Ultimately, Tool play out the lull, lower the boom, and completely reengage us. Lateralus is almost tidal in that regard. You decide if you want to be at its mercy. Andrew Bonazelli

MARCUS MILLER

M2 (Telarc)

Bassist exploits Rolodex; networking's never sounded better.

I don't know when I have last torn away shrink-wrap with a greater expectation of instantaneous pleasure. Marcus, you play to my every weakness—the over-the-top fretless antics; the ingenious mixing of horns, cello, bass clarinet, and B-3; the shy, sidelong interpolations from Herbie, Wayne, Branford, and a long line of other modest giants; the ridiculous revival of "Burning Down the House." You are too shrewd, Marcus, picking up where the Headhunters and Weather Report drifted off, as if 20 years of smooth jazz were just a bad dream. The only surprise is how delayed my gratification was: It took a few listens before I was completely undone by "Cousin John," a long, slow cycle of corrupted funk built around an extreme sixteenth-note bass riff, or "Lonnie's Lament," a beautiful soul-groove reinvention of Coltrane's lesser-known ballad. I was even won over to James Carter, the showboating saxophone peacock who never roused me till I heard him tear up "3 Deuces," Miller's shameless copping of "A Night in Tunisia." It's all beautifully arranged, with the same combination of jazz edge and R&B feeling that Marcus brought to Miles' great late recording Amandla. My only wish is that Chaka Khan had slept through the session, since her raving hysteria on the closing track, "Your Amazing Grace," makes even Marcus seem like a choirboy. Mark D. Fefer

C AVERAGE

Second Reckoning

(Kill Rock Stars)

In which Eddie Vedder's backing band gets medieval on your ass.

Talk about your small-town boys making good: Singer/guitarist Jon Merithew and drummer Brad Balsley put together C Average to bash out some double-kick-drum metal noise, then Eddie Vedder recruited them to back him on solo dates, and the trio ended up opening for the Who. Not bad for a pair of humble Olympians. Now C Average are back with their sophomore disc, another elves-and-all collection of raucous jams. But take heart, ye olde indie rockers—even if you hate Rush, never played D&D, and have no intention of visiting Stonehenge, you'll hear patches of sonic righteousness in Second Reckoning. And it's not that Cave Rage, as they're also known, bandy this stuff about ironically. These guys rock it up right by nodding more to Sabbath's sonic truncheon (with just two dudes!) than Yes' and Jethro Tull's goofy narratives. Their originals—such as "Starhok" and "Strider '88"—are, wisely, instrumentals, and are interspersed with covers of tunes like Blue Cheer's trampling of Mose Allison's "Parchment Farm" and the Sonics' "The Witch" (here, of course, about an actual spell-caster). Intolerability only sets in with the five-part "Prolock (The Protector)," which succumbs to a seven-minute electronic lock groove and then a hidden, underwhelming live performance. Chris Nelson

C Average play the Crocodile Tuesday, June 12.

 
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