Review Summary: love me love me, say that you love me.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that the music video to “You” doesn’t hurt. It envisions TV On The Radio ten years after their hypothetical breakup, agreeing to meet in a diner and complimenting each other endlessly on their future endeavours. In the corner sits front man Tunde, sipping a coffee and wondering how the hell the rest of the band has managed to get on with life (at this point, you might want to go check out the video yourself: apparently Kyp is into live action roleplaying and Dave Sitek has plans to make an ice skating show about George Bush). But the video puts Tunde, ever the entertainer, at the centre of the break-up: now a washed up Prince-wannabe, trying to sell one-man shows and screaming at the sea, he seems in one blow hilariously out-of-touch with his band and tragically involved with them. At one point, he takes out a crumpled Spin mag, sees the staged band photo on its front and sheds a little tear. And that’s it. The TV On The Radio breakup, an idea that made me scream the first time I watched this ridiculously teasing video, hits Tunde harder than it could any fan.
This video is the kind of stuff that shouldn’t be so heartbreaking but is, so am I going to say that Nine Types of Light
is in anyway easy? These “love songs” are filled with the stuff that Return To Cookie Mountain
could only fill with the fear-mongering of war. The horribly desperate passions of “You” are impossible to find on Dear Science
, a record so lyrically cryptic it folds its arms and refuses to let you in. “You” is brutally plain. “You gave no reason for letting go / I just thought I should let you know / you’re the only one I ever loved.” None of the craziness that TV On The Radio used to blame it on, but rather one simple, love-sick reproach. And the music video is perfect. These are the kind of small, painful words Tunde would really scream if the rest of the band was ready to move on and he wasn’t. And I know the quintet are just reimagining things here, and that “You” is one hundred percent a love song, but no other lyric could make you feel for him in this moment. It feels like his band really have
let go of him, and that this song is his own sad solo project hitting back at them. Plain songs can do that: they can transcend all the complexities around you and hit full force, and Nine Types of Light
proves how hard this quintet can hit, experimental New Yorkers or love-sick idiots.
So yes, maybe TV On The Radio have written albums we can cling onto as classics more than we can this one, but has any been more cutting? Nine Types of Light
is a beautiful, profound record, the type you’d only expect from a band who knows each other inside out (here, I direct you to the video of “Killer Crane”) to make after a year hiatus. After two explosive records that documented the most disturbing of conflicts found in “I Was a Lover” and “DLZ,” Nine Types of Light
washes over all the ill the band saw in the world and replaces it with the simple joy found in being with each other and being around loved ones. “Killer Crane” is six minutes of TV On The Radio with one another in perfect harmony, a sun-bathed jam featuring the understated brilliance of each member: the now natural piano chords set a tone that flourishes into the banjo ballad it becomes. “Will Do” takes apart anything the band once was as a force of commentary and replaces it with the same heart-broken fool Tunde is in that music video, biking around town trying to score a show. Even when we get the dance-punk side of the band back on “No Future Shock,” the track focuses on the frantic, impulsive beats that control it rather than any specific motif. That’s why we’re being told to dance the no future shock.
A lyric like the one from “Will Do” would sound cheap from any other TV On The Radio record. “Any time will do my love / no choice of words will break me from this rule” is a line we’ve certainly heard before, but from these guys? It seems like the easy way out for a band so well known to say such forceful things. This is the band that has told that love is much more eloquent than that- that “love is the province of the brave,” for one, as if it was an emotion stuck in no man’s land. Elsewhere, love was way more cool, because it was a way to tell war to go fu
ck itself (“Red Dress”). But on Nine Types of Light
, love is what it is, and “Will Do,” in that sense, is completely natural. It seems odd that the biggest criticism people can throw this album’s way is its aesthetic. For most bands, that would mean that something of the band’s sound was missing, but with this band, it’s not about the ridiculous sounds they could put in or how crazy they could go with electronics, it’s about how simple they are with words. Even the heavy-handed second half seems, to fans of these wordsmiths, to say things simple. Me, I contest anyone that could argue “you’ve got me singing blues / that hit you like a cannonball” is any less powerful than it could be. The lyric comes scorned with the most intense pulse, and from it, TV On The Radio are using Nine Types of Light
to cleanse a palette, and not just as a musical process, but rather as an emotional outlet.
Everything here is said so easily, as self-proclaimed “love-songs” tend to be, so that even at their darkest, we’re getting Tunde, Kyp and all upfront. “Keep Your Heart,” perhaps the song most worthy of this “love song” tag, gives the best example of Nine Types of Light
as an album governed by emotion rather than thought. Yes, there’s a process to making pop music this insanely catchy, but it’s that final refrain of “Keep Your Heart” that damns the process. Here, they’re wailing without a lyrics sheet, with no words having more sentiment than Tunde and Kyp just squealing tunelessly, mindlessly, at one another. It’s two guys harmonising gone wrong, but it lets out a bunch of feelings without the compromise of comment. TV On The Radio don’t need to be relevant. They don’t need to say
anything. They just need to let it all out. And Nine Types Of Light
does. That “You” music video really did consume me- I didn’t want TV On The Radio to breakup, but I never really pictured it happening until Tunde put on an afro-wig and pretended he was still in his beloved band. It’s all hypothetical, of course, but when he sits on that bed howling sadly about the whole silly thing, it’s clear that Nine Types Of Light
is his- his band’s- biggest emotional moment. That, or he’s just a really great actor. From the video, I can really believe that, but from the song, I can hear him sob.