Radiohead’s recent Rolling Stone cover was a prime example of the hype that accompanies the band’s every move these days: “In Order to Save Themselves,” it read, “Radiohead Had to Destroy Rock & Roll.” (Excuse me while I console myself with a swig of Mylanta.) Once a dull alt-rock band with a penchant for the anthemic, Radiohead learned to create good original music with 1997’s OK Computer, giving the bombast meaning and using the extreme dynamic leaps to do something other than poorly emulate Nirvana. Then came last year’s Kid A, a virtually guitar-free recording having something to do with alienation and confusion. It was a terrific album, made beautiful use of color and mood–but the only thing truly bold about it was that it had been released by a band that could have just as easily finessed its formula off into the sunset. Sure, in today’s commercial rock environment they deserve credit for choosing art, but plenty of bands have consistently made more groundbreaking music without nearly so much fuss. Of course, none of this is really Radiohead’s fault, and the new Amnesiac (Capitol)–recorded at the same time as Kid A–does prove that the transformation was no fluke. It’s more linear and a bit more conventional than its predecessor, but its scope is remarkably broad; in fact, if the band sounded one iota less assured, their bloated ambition would be unbearable. From string-saturated elegies to grinding, bass-driven throbs to Autechre-esque electroconfusion to jazzy balladry to ambient fragments–somehow it all fits in. I don’t know how music so dependent on studio manipulation will translate live, but I’m certainly interested in finding out. The Beta Band and Kid Koala open. Wednesday, August 1, 6:30 PM, Hutchinson Field, south of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park; 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Thom Yorke/Dilly Gent.