Andy Gill on albums: Radiohead OK Computer Parlophone CDNODATA 02

`It's ultimately hard to love an album that luxuriates so readily in its own despondency'
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Expertly surfing the approaching wave of pre-millennial tension, OK Computer offers a dozen snapshots of contemporary unease which combine to form a larger picture of The World We Live In. It's a beautifully detailed, technically adept work, painstakingly crafted from empathic scraps and smudges of guitar noise which aim to illuminate Thom Yorke's disconnected lyric fragments, although, given its impressionistic tone, the tunes could be a little less subtle.

At its heart lie some of the bigger questions posed by a rock band in recent years, particularly the vexed topic of what constitutes humanity and how poorly our habits and emotions may be equipping us for the future. The first hint of this comes with "Paranoid Android", a six-minute, multi- sectioned monster that is possibly the most over-ambitious single since "MacArthur Park".

The fulcrum upon which Yorke's man/ machine unease pivots, however, is "Fitter Happier", which comes right at the heart of the album, as if leaking from the space between the two sides. Lyrically a direct descendant of The Fall's "Eat Y'self Fitter", it features a computerised voice outlining rules for a healthy, stress-free life over a quietly abstract backdrop. Sharply ironic it may be, but once heard, it is always skipped thereafter. This offers a further irony, one which provides a possible answer to the album's prevailing anxieties.

But even when Yorke locates some kind of human essence in the extreme introspection of "Climbing up the Walls", there is no easy respite. "Either way you turn I'll be there," he sings. "Open up your skull I'll be there/ Crawling up the walls". So despite the brief bursts of optimism in "No Surprises" and "Lucky", OK Computer concludes with Yorke and the band still hurtling into the future.

For all its ambition and determination to break new ground, OK Computer is not, finally, as impressive as The Bends, which covered much the same sort of emotional knots, but with better tunes. It is easy to be impressed by, but ultimately hard to love, an album that luxuriates so readily in its own despondency.