TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
Release Date: April 11, 2011
Record Label: Interscope
The problem with TV on the Radio is that you have to listen to the words. I'll never forget one of the best pieces of music journalism that I've read in the past 5 years or so, which was an interview with the band where the interviewer said: "I've always thought your band was too political to be romantic or too romantic to be political." And one of the members (either Kyp Malone or Tunde Adebimpe) responded: "Why can't we be both?" It's that kind of open commitment to contradiction, to ambiguity, to the social and personal, which have made them one of the most important bands of the past decade. And also why it takes a while to digest them.
TOTR's last record, Dear Science, is a dancey hymn and a celebratory remembrance. It was at times totally goofy ("He's a what / He's a what / He's a newspaper man") and devastating ("We're hanging on the shadow of your family tree"). Their new one, Nine Types of Light, released last week is less upbeat and wants to hit its points on the head.
The single, "Will Do," is an undeniable highlight of the album and the track that you'll probably go back to over and over on your first few spins. The thundering electronic beat and melodic refrain are gorgeous. And perhaps one of the reasons that you return again and again to it is that it steps out of the fabric of what's otherwise a pretty subdued record. The first track, ironically titled "Second Song" begins in acquiescence and moves on to a kind of affirmation of music and its power and influence before breaking into a pop chorus inviting us into the light. It's a well-trod lyrical motif and the band seems as ready to dispel it as they were to bring it up in the first place. If anything, it sounds the most like a TOTR song that could have been on any other album merging horns and electronics with their trademarked loops that dig deeper with each go round. But this arrangement quickly goes away in favor of more electronics. On "Killer Crane" the addition of an acoustic instrument is jarring overtop of the layers of electric sound. "Repetition" -- obviously -- seems to snake around itself for it's duration.
You can forget about finding a bacchanalian song like "Wolf Like Me" or "Red Dress" here. TOTR seem more content to push meaning. And I won't deny that it's a very meaningful album, though, I would like it to feel less precious. What's beautiful about a track like "Crying" for instance is how you scream sadness. There's not that same kind of release here. And what that means is the record feels very personal. Not to you, but to the band. For those of us who've been there with them, the album will feel, likewise, important. For first time listeners, I'm not so sure. And it's albums like this that give us pause as reviewers -- that is people who put thought into what we write -- because the temptation with a record like this is to call it "disappointing." But, it isn't. There's a lot of joy and verve and really beautiful and amazing things in this record. What's missing, though, is the release that we're used to getting from TOTR -- the romance and the politics, aside -- I want something to scream along with. That doesn't seem to be where the band is these days. And, I respect that, even if I am left wanting a little more.
Given the band's recent history, it remains unclear if this album will be a bow out or a new step. I hope its the latter.