TV on the Radio “Dear Science” Review
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Album Reviews, Music.
It seemed that whenever I was talking to a fan of TV on the Radio about Return to Cookie Mountain, they would always revert to “I liked (either) Young Liars (or) Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes better.” I, on the other hand, felt that the album was amazing — truly one of the year’s best – and certainly representative of some of the band’s strongest material. But my reality wasn’t influenced by countless listening sessions of the band’s older material as were my friends’, and as such I was comfortable with accepting the band at face value. With Dear Science however I find myself in the position of listening and basking in the memory of the band TV on the Radio once was – a bit disappointed because I was now playing the role of someone who liked their older music better. But Dear Science is a transition brought on by change – something that should be embraced rather than chastised. Since RTCM, David Sitek has worked on producing Scarlett Johannsen’s Anywhere I Lay My Head and Tunde Adebimpe has further pursued his acting aspirations – the band is certainly different, and the music should reflect the people they are now. How fickle would it be for me to then criticize such a thing when, even as with something as simple as being a listener, I’ve changed too? In accepting that it becomes far easier to move away from a “they were better when…” statement and closer towards once again accepting the music by its own merit.
How funny is it then, that after accepting Dear Science for being its own album, that we are still prone to scratch for comparisons in order to place the music into some sort of imaginary context. Some have alluded to how Dear Science is to RTCM as Wish You Were Here is to Dark Side of the Moon, while others have gone further with the comparisons. In attempting to place the album in a dramatic historical context, Will Hermes wrote for Rolling Stone, “But the group is still determined to stage a revolution worth dancing to, a throwback to the days when New York artists like Patti Smith, Television and the Ramones set out to do the same.” But TV on the Radio isn’t Patti Smith just like TV on the Radio certainly isn’t Pink Floyd. With Dear Science the band isn’t looking to replicate anything, most certainly not themselves, and while comparisons are generally inevitable – such dramatics are a tad unnecessary. Even making comparisons on an individual song-to-song basis proves something difficult, ultimately failing to portray the music appropriately as well. To say that Dear Science doesn’t have its “Wolf Like Me” moment would be partially true, but “Halfway Home” does incorporate a wild fuzzed over riff that might remind some of RTCM‘s lead single. All the same the songs have little in common and the comparison is weak at best. So what exactly does Dear Science sound like then?
The balance of the album has shifted away from avant rock towards a funkier pop sound – and while each style is equally represented throughout, the combination further suggests that TV on the Radio might not be a rock band at all. Horns, Barry Gibb-like vocals, and a small string section, all of which appear at some point throughout the album, all suggest TV on the Radio to be something drastically different than what indie rock has shifted towards (see: Kings of Leon). “Golden Age” lends a soulful grace to uptempo shifts, “Crying” reflects an updated lounge act – its keyboards and muted guitar working together to simply set a mood — and the hushed melody of “Love Dog” hints at acid-jazz while being something entirely different. What I’m trying to say is that if you break these songs down they don’t exactly fit the rock standard.
The songs do meet TV on the Radio standard, however…
The songs are different, but the flavor lingers – Dear Science is like nothing heard before by the band, yet it’s like everything heard before by the band. The band is like an old friend who you had become comfortable with, only to meet them years later as a changed person – you can still see their core as something familiar, but the differences are vast. Wish You Were Here wasn’t Dark Side of the Moon. Each album portrayed the band in a different way, but were both somehow characteristic of the Pink Floyd that many of us have come to know and love. Likewise, I’d like to think that TV on the Radio will never sound the same, never attempting to put out material to simply match their last recordings. But years from now we’ll get to look back at the continual shift made from what the band used to be toward what the band evolved into and suggest such a change to be more characteristic of brilliance than any album or song in particular. Dear Science reflects such a brilliance.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]