Review Summary: All eyes ablaze the day you break your mold.
On their breakthrough 2006 release, Return to Cookie Mountain
, TV on the Radio quickly explained their motifs in one fell swoop: “I was a lover before this war.” Bathed in horn-blasted, inky melodies and muddled production, Return to Cookie Mountain
kept afloat, above what could have been a dreary postcard from the far side, because of the hope stuck there. In the two years since Kyp Malone uttered those words, the elements they transposed on American ideology have shifted, but so has the America they live in: from the opening bars of “Halfway Home,” a steady house rave set off with surfer pop backing vocals and Malone’s soulful verses, it’s evident that this is no ordinary TV on the Radio. If remorse set off “I Was a Lover,” then disdain lights this fuse: “The lazy way they turned your head into a rest stop for the dead.” Before the song is over, it’ll have climaxed into a rhythmic wet dream and set the bar increasingly high for what is to follow on Dear Science
, a politically intriguing postcard from our backyard. TV on the Radio match it, step for step.
For all its musical precedents (first and foremost, this is an auspicious, brilliantly-executed dance album), what makes Dear Science
so hefty and relevant is its beating heart. Vocal duo Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone turn every track into a different observation, charting their trajectory with an uncanny ability for flair. They cover so many genres here (they leap without reservations into up-tempo soul numbers, R&B and funk) that it’s easy to overlook that there is
something being said here. “Sly” would accurately describe the breathless Prince number, “Crying,” where they choose to mock our laziness in the album's catchiest number (“Time to take the wheel and the road from the masters / … / and stop our crying”). Later in “Red Dress,” the tribal rap scheme builds an appropriate, self-aware cockiness that evokes stereotypes through Malone’s suggestive but disturbingly real lyrics: “Fu
ck your war / ‘cause I’m fat and in love and no bombs are fallin’ on me for sure / But I’m scared to death that I’m livin’ a life not worth dying for.”
Moments like these help to build a living, thriving metropolis for Dear Science
to live in, one not shy of tender and heartbreaking moments. When Adebimpe drops into a baritone at the end of the first verse in “Family Tree,” a grand, classical piano ballad replete with string sections and a wonderful guest in Katrina Ford, it stresses the distress of praying to anyone, anywhere for comfort: “It’s echoing moonlight on to the blue nightmare of your heart / in cozy red rainbow / it’s shaking off halos / and the memory of our sacred so and so’s.” The broken chords and string sections that shape the atmospheric “Stork and Owl” are unshakeable. But the most powerful statements come at full force, most notably Jaleel Bunton’s steel-cut percussion and handclaps in “Dancing Choose” that detail a greedy, self-serving materialism through Adebimpe’s jagged flow (“Corrupts his hard drive through the leanest months / shells out the hard cash for the sickest stunts / on aftershave, on gasoline / he flips the page and turns the scene”). When he positions the ideals of a generation growing into this war with, “Angry young mannequin / American, apparently / still to the rhythm / better get to the back of me,” his lack of faith isn’t subtle.
By the time Dear Science
winds down and finally explodes with the sensual, nearly masochistic “Lover’s Day,” it’s easy to meet TV on the Rado’s dense masterpiece halfway. I mean, isn’t this the same band that seemed so impenetrable and unnerving, crying out, “I was a lover before this war”? But I guess that’s the change we’ve undergone in just that two year period, and TV on the Radio above all seem to realize that now more than ever we need to embrace, not isolate, each other. If only “DLZ” didn’t cleanly jerk away the veil, revealing instead a cynical undercurrent to Adebimpe’s pondering, strangely appropriate in the wake of an escalating economic crisis: “Fortune strives to fill the vacuum that it feeds / but this is beginning to feel like the dog’s lost her lead.” And that’s after the slow-burning “Golden Age” opens a pop chasm with the strobe light precision of its chorus (“There’s a golden age coming 'round”), and it gets all blow’d up like a ghetto blaster.
For all the brain brewing underneath the surface (even deeper still, but TV on the Radio will reveal their secrets in due time), Dear Science
works best not because of all it aspires to be but all that it is inspired to do. I become a bassist jamming out to “Dancing Choose,” my dashboard my drum set when “Shout Me Out” jumps ship from funky alternative rock and the percussion explodes. And this isn’t counting how nerdy I get trying to explain the theory that, if you invert Dear Science
, it links thematically to Return to Cookie Mountain
. I’m convinced. Is that weird? I don’t know. Let’s just leave it to TV on the Radio to sum this bad boy up: “And you’ll all dance to this without making a fist.” Maybe it’s about time you do.