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SUN RA AND HIS ARKESTRA
Greatest Hits(Evidence)
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The solid heads and well-schooled solos of John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, and the former Herman Blount are avant-trad at its most accessible, but note that the melodic panjazz swing showcased here is far more human-sounding and heartbeat-anchored than the children of Star Warsand videogames expect of "easy listening for intergalactic travel." Orbital fans out to slake their craving for strange should make room in their budget for one of the DIY albums where these 18 nonhits began. I'm a Lanquidityfan myself, but remember—I've always liked Aghartatoo. B PLUS

RADIOHEAD
Kid A(Capitol)
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I guess the fools who ceded these bummed-out Brits U2's world's-greatest-rock-band slot actually did care about what bigger fool Thom Yorke had to say as well as how he made it sound. Why else the controversy over this bag of sonics? Me, I'm so relieved Yorke's doing without lyrics. Presaging too damn much but no more a death knell for song than OK Computerwas for organic life, this is an imaginative, imitative variation on a pop staple: sadness made pretty. Alienated masterpiece nothing—it's dinner music. More claret? A MINUS


Pick Hit

BADLY DRAWN BOY
The Hour of Bewilderbeast(XL)
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Damon Gough sounds a lot sadder than he is. It's more like he muses a lot, is easily distracted. On the page, "You left your shoes in the tree with me/I'll wear them to your house tonight" looks hopelessly stupid; on record, it's quite wry. Nor is he undemonstrative—unlike low-affect codependent Elliott Smith, he fusses so much over his tunes, crooning and segueing and arranging and stuff, that you know he loves them to death. You can imagine him being just as nice to a real live girl one of these years. A MINUS

LYRICIST LOUNGE VOL. 2
(Rawkus)
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The first volume documented a fertile institution of zero political correctness and endless creativity, but because it's hard to catch live improvisation on the fly, it was longer on feel than on legible music. The follow-up takes off from 16 high-flying bars of 1993 Biggie, then proceeds to the studio to prove how much competitive freestyling has meant to New York hip-hop. Name producers and star collaborations abound, and informing them all is a mindset few official guardians of black pride would approve—not just that good art needn't forswear violence, but that in this community it can't. Even moralists Dead Prez and Talib Kweli praise their pistols, as weapons of political struggle and self-protection, and not always against the white man—they know Prodigy, Kool G Rap, and M.O.P. aren't so circumspect, know it because that's the life they're living and know it because all three soon say so. Mos Def sums things up by rhyming in the voice of that boyfriend Macy Gray committed murder for. The two of them make it sound like a blast. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

DR DRE
Dr. Dre—2001(Aftermath/Interscope)
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It's a New Millennium, but he's Still S.L.I.M.E. How Eminem survived all the misogyny conditioning to grow into the sensitive spouse we know today I'll never understand. A "family man" when he's explaining why he fled the 'hood, on the very next track Dre drips contempt for the wife he's dogging and the other husbands' wives he's sodomizing—apparently because his real-life wife told him that would be commercial, rendering him a liar more ways than Eminem himself could comprehend. For an hour, with time out for some memorable Eminem tracks, Dre degrades women every way he can think of, all of which involve his dick ("the whole eight," as this master of poetic license puts it). Best friend S. Dogg, bad speller Kurupt, and Dat 'Ho Ms. Roq are among the hangers-on who'll take his (really Eminem's) money when (and if) he writes the check. And just when you thought it was safe to discard your vomit bag he goes out on a tearjerker about a dead homey. Wottan innovator. C


Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Queens of the Stone Age, R(Interscope): masters of unreality ("Feel Good Hit of the Summer," "Monsters in the Parasol"); Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars, Di Shikere Kapelye(Piranha import): "Band of Drunks" revisited—the Jewish equivalent of nouveau honkytonk ("A Shiker Iz a Bloyzer-Shpiler [A drunk is a brass-player]," "Lekhaim, Efraim [Cheers, Frank]"); Beenie Man, Art and Life(VP/Virgin): hip-hop plus salsa plus r&b plus more r&b equals pure reggae crossover ("Analyze This," "Girls Dem Sugar"); Tricky, Mission Accomplished(Anti-): four tracks not market-friendly enough to convince me "PolyGram" offed him for being a "fucking nigger" ("Divine Comedy"); Talib Kweli & Hi Tek, Reflection Eternal(Rawkus): "Anybody can tell you how it is/What we puttin' down right here, this is how it is, and how it could be" ("Eternalists," "For Women"); Kool Keith, Matthew(Funky Ass): "Tell your a&r and his wife to get out of my fucking life" ("I Don't Believe You," "Extravagant Traveler"); Primal Scream, XTRMNTR(Astralwerks): to hell in a cybercar ("Kill All Hippies," "MBV Arkestra [If They Move Kill 'Em]"); the Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia(Capitol): dandies have feelings too—no, strike that, tunestoo ("Shakin'," Godless"); Xzibit, Restless(Loud): a tough guy explains himself ("Best of Things," "Sorry I'm Away So Much," "F****n' You Right"); Bamboozled(Motown): ain't nobody here but we chickens (Prince, "2045 Radical Man"; Stevie Wonder, "Misrepresented People"); Peter Tosh, Live at the One Love Peace Concert(Koch): more politics than Bob or Bunny, and here's where they got him beaten within an inch of his life ("Speech," "Legalize It/Get Up, Stand Up"); Eminem, The Freestyle Album(bootleg): just illin'—rhymes 'n' beats, some worked out over multiple takes and then released elsewhere ("15-27 Freestyles," "8-13 Freestyles"); The Blackbook Sessions(Galapagos4): up against a rap underground this brainy, no wonder Chitown's white bohos "feign" shallowness (Anacron, "Be Where? [Beware!]"; Offwhyte, "Easy Speak"); Kittie, Paperdoll EP(NG/Artemis): learning to yowl, live ("Spit," "Suck").

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