Brooklyn art/beat innovators TV on the Radio return with their third album, a soulful slice of inspiration and invention, moving away from the doom and desperation of 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain to give us their own potent and poignant sign o’ the times.
TV on the Radio’s chief technician David Sitek once said in relation to the public’s reaction to their sound and approach to their music “Are they trying to half-ass every genre and ape every style they can? The answer is yes.” and this is something more noticeable on Dear Science than any other of their past releases. This is a dance record, or at least TV on the Radio’s idea of a dance record. Sharp rhythms, bright brass sounds and high falsetto vocals frame the overall feel and clarity of the album.
The uptemp opener “Halfway Home”, with its “Surfin’ Bird” ba-ba-ba-ba’ backing vocal, brisk beats and handclap rhythms, finds vocalist Tunde Adebimpe lamenting a lost love or something deeper, the sense of dread and desperation constantly hangs overhead, yet when the music breaks free from the words, this song literally takes off. “Crying” follows suit with a funky bassline and slick guitar riffs that give way to another falsetto chorus. Despondency and the desire to rise up is an old protest singers trick, this time Kyp Malone urging that its “Time to take the wheel and the road/From the masters/Take this car/Drive it straight into the wall”.
Adebimpe loses himself on “Dancing Choose”, double-timing lines in such a blur that only a lyric sheet can determine what’s being said. It’s alive and up front, sax heavy and shifting, and at the shortest track on the album packs the biggest punch. The influence of Prince weighs large on “Golden Age” with its jungle rhythms and strings, Malone shadowing the purple one in the vocal delivery, the message here is a simple one — fuck war, let’s dance — “There’s a golden age coming’ round/Blowin’ up like a ghetto blaster”. “Stork and Owl” and “Family Tree” cut the power and brings the mood down. The latter finding TV on the Radio at their most touching and moving. Stuttering beats and strings, piano chords like ripples from the ocean reach for an emotional mood. “We’re hanging in the gallows of your family tree”.
In an album with too many highlights, Dear Science closes on a true get down and dirty moment with “Lovers Day”. “Call off work let’s lay/it’s lovers day!” demands Malone (in a duet of sorts with Katrina Ford from Celebration) before getting explicitly suggestive. I’m searching my mind but I still can’t find another line to compete with ‘”Ball so hard we’ll smash the walls”. Amongst the strong messages that fill the lyrics of “DLZ” and “Red Dress” with its “Hey Jackboot! Fuck your war!” defiance, TV on the Radio can still get down to a different kind of business.
It’s not hard to realise that Dear Science is the album TV on the Radio have been promising to deliver since Young Liars. It’s a soaring mainstream effort that captures the mood of the moment and one that will reinforce their position as one of the important acts of the decade.