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  CONSUMABLES: THE NEW RADIOHEAD RECORD, CLAY AIKEN, TATU AND GRANDADDY.  
   
   
   
 

 

T.A.T.U. "200 KM/H IN THE WRONG LANE"
Their appeal is based almost solely on watching two underage girls make out with each other. If that doesn't float your boat -- if you're smart enough to see through a marketing manipulation -- the music has its limited appeal, too. Dance beats, some lyrics in Russian, those leering pictures in the CD booklet -- something for everyone. None of this is quite clever enough to rise to the level of guilty pleasure. But the Smiths cover beats karaoke, and by reprising several songs in their native tongue, they at least solve the filler problem in a creative way. B-

KAITO "BAND RED"
Slightly punky and slightly unhinged, they also sound just slightly foreign. (If you squint your ears just right, Niki Colk yelps sorta like Bjork.) "Noise pop," or whatever you want to call it, is filled with amateurs hiding behind their dissonance. This U.K. group, on the other hand, has actual hooks and superb moments -- the opening cut, the instrumental before the finale. The two highest highlights are pushed near the end as well, and it's reassuring how different they are from one another. "A.S.A. to Accuracy" obliterates the world in convincing fashion. Meanwhile, "3am" is drowsy and soothing, picking up the pieces as the CD winds to a close. B+

EARLIMART "EVERYONE DOWN HERE"
You don't have to scan the liner notes to know they're down with Grandaddy, Lou Barlow, and the Radar Brothers. Just listen to the music, which mostly aims for "Return of the Sophtware Slump." When Aaron Espinoza isn't cheating off of Jason Lytle's final exam, he does wonders with moody sound and high lonesome meditation. But then that only makes you remember what a great record "And the Surrounding Mountains" is. This band is chock full of promise but needs to lose its allusions. B+

RADIOHEAD "HAIL TO THE THIEF"
After coming to terms with the fact that they'll never top that album, let alone try to do it again, I decided, reluctantly, to just go ahead and listen to the album they opted to make. A novel idea, and it turned out to have huge rewards. Despite the objections of grumps like me, this thing does, in fact, have actual songs on it -- not as easily detectable and indelible as on that album, but real songs nonetheless. "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" were, respectively, the pros and cons of trying to escape your destiny; this record feels like owning up to your legacy while trying to subvert and enrich it at the same time. They're full of themselves as always, but here they back it up with an honest stab at the zeitgeist. "I don't know why you bother," "We're rotten fruit," and "Drag him out the window" aren't just the opening lines of songs -- they nicely sum up your mindset most days. I dislike the album title simply because the thief doesn't deserve to be immortalized by Radiohead. But maybe we should thank Bush for distracting this band from their laptops a little. After all, those eerie handclaps on "We Suck Young Blood" are sounds made by human beings -- angry, ambitious, with worthwhile things to say about the world you and I inhabit. If it doesn't approach that album, then at least it comes as close as anything they've attempted. A-

GRANDADDY "SUMDAY"
He's either shoring up his orchestral beauty or falling into studio obsession. But if he can keep from turning boring and pretty, or going all Brian Wilson on us, Jason Lytle will emerge as a major talent -- a normal dude who renders dread and love in epic fashion without making a big to-do. That's part of his problem, naturally -- he doesn't make concept albums or in any way announce his ideas portentously. All he has is terrific music that mirrors the songs' emotions perfectly. The one about a girlfriend long gone resonates with ache, longing, and acceptance. The ones about getting out of the record business are unresolved, drunk on what-if. As a lyricist, he writes obliquely and teases you with possibilities. His band's soundscapes fill in the gaps. As long as the outside world continues to interest him, he'll keep making albums as good as this. A-

THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The World Champions of the National Basketball Association. Swell. Still doesn't make them any more exciting or grand, huh? The New York Giants of professional hoops. The socks-and-underwear Christmas presents of sports. Their two most exciting playoff games where when the Dallas Mavericks came back to beat them in Game Five and when Robert Horry almost beat them in a different Game Five. I'd join the Lakers myself next season if I thought it would help beat these walking asterisks. B

STEELY DAN "THE LAST MALL"
This is the new song from Steely Dan. Even if you haven't heard it yet, you already have. And you'll already know what you think of it, too. In fact, you could probably hum it right now and get pretty close to the actual melody. Which is entirely the problem. B

 

 
 

GOOD THINGS.

LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN
It used to be easy to complain about latter-day Dave. Too cranky. Not as funny as he used to be. Say it with me now: The NBC years were better. Maybe. But now that Trio is running old episodes of those NBC years, maybe not. No question that the younger Dave was sharp -- he was crafting a persona, based on his instincts and insecurities. He didn't have the polish and professionalism that would define the CBS era, but he wasn't quite the mercurial genius our lazy memories would have us believe, either. Let us not forget that his fallibility is what made him an icon. Me, I'll take any episode of him at any time in his career. He's not perfect now, and he wasn't perfect then. But he is forever Dave. A

 

BAD THINGS.

CLAY AIKEN "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER/THIS IS THE NIGHT"
OK, kids, listen. No matter what your parents say, you are living in a great pop era. Missy Elliott, Eminem, Timbaland, the Neptunes, Sean Paul, Jay-Z, and Justin Timberlake are all over your radio dial. Geez, even Christina Aguilera is good for a little stupid fun on occasion -- even Mariah Carey. But, you keep supporting crap like this guy and you just play right into your folks' hands. He's not funky, not soulful, not meaningful, and not memorable. Kids, just because FOX tells you he's got a great voice doesn't mean he's a great singer. Now go to your room and think about what you've done. F

OLD SCHOOL, DIRECTED BY TODD PHILLIPS
I don't rent movies if I can help it. If I want to see something, I check it out in a theater. If I don't, then I ain't gonna give it a second chance in the comforts and distractions of home. So maybe I should be kinder to this piece of crap. But I don't feel like it. Give it a couple points for finding the pulse of the Stuff nation -- overage boys struggling with commitment, grown-up luxury, and hot young sluts. This'll make it instructive for future generations, but they'll wonder when Vince Vaughn or Will Farrell has ever been less funny. C

 
 

 

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*BT*

Tim Grierson is an editor of The Simon, a weekly online publication of culture, politics, and humor.