We have an awkward relationship, TV on the Radio and I. Sometimes, in fact nearly all of the time, I feel we’re made for each other. Other times, we drift apart. Oh yes, we’ve had a rollercoaster 5 years alright.
It was an ecstatic, explosive relationship at first. Sparks flew as I discovered the freewheeling revelry of Wolf Like Me back in ‘06. Such a fresh, feel-good take on the old werewolf yarn. It didn’t have to be all agonising transformations ala ‘An American Werewolf in London’. It could be fun; liberating even. And god I liked it. I did notice when listening to ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ that, on occasion, their personality could be a touch overbearing, but mostly we got on like a house on fire.
We grew closer still with Dear Science, two years later. They worked hard for my affections on that album, stirring me with passionate histories of their Family Tree and anti-Enlightenment causes. I even went back to the giddy, indulgent days of their Desperate Youth and was just about able to stomach what I unearthed there. Yep, the future was all set for me and TV on the Radio.
But now it’s 2011 and the old spark seems to be fading with the release of Nine Types of Light. That old chemistry, it just isn’t quite there anymore. It could have something to do with their banging on so much about love on this album, though I don’t think that’s completely it. After all, they’ve scored some real beauties about love in the past. To me, it’s almost as if they’ve become complacent.
Maybe it’s just me – and judging by the critical acclaim for Nine Types of Light it most probably is – but I feel TV on the Radio have lost some of that drive, some of that urgency they usually thrive on to push boundaries, to put their audience’s endurance and intelligence to the test, which has made each album before this so riveting an experience. I don’t know, maybe they’ve simply had enough of all that, and are quite content to just give their listeners – and indeed themselves – a comfortable time of it.
It’s not just the noise and clamour they’ve shorn themselves of though; it’s the cutting, incisive lyricism too. Rarely have their lyrics been so clichéd as they are on this album: “You gave no reason for letting go, I just thought you might like to know, you were the only one I ever loved” (You). This is by no means an isolated line.
And do you know what’s weird? Each of these songs is solid enough I guess, but as a collection they become frustrating because I’m so aware of what this band are capable of, of just how clever and penetrating they can be. It’s like Stephen Hawking announcing he’s taking a break from scanning the universe for answers and is instead going to do a book on strawberry milkshakes. I wouldn’t begrudge him it, but he’ll probably find he loses my attention rather quickly.
Given my misgivings with most of the song-writing on this album, it’s unsurprising that I’ve warmed mostly to the songs that pack the most punch. First song Second Song is the pick of this punchy bunch, even if they do sound very Scissor Sisters during the chorus. And my ears also prick up for the lively pairing of No Future Shock and Caffeinated Consciousness.
Yet, my overall impression is one of TV on the Radio being content to coast along on this album, and rarely showing much interest in stretching themselves unduly. It actually provokes a werewolf bloodlust in me for their earlier stuff, when I first became infatuated with this band. Otherwise, Nine Types of Light makes me inclined to cast my covetous glances elsewhere.
Ch-Check It Out If You’re Partial To – the mellower songs on their previous albums, like A Method, Hours, or Family Tree; love songs; Second Song coming first; Scissor Sisters choruses; Art-rock; Self-referential songs, “My repetition! My repetition is this!”; happy, contented albums
Fantastic Track – Second Song… this song really is ace