TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light (5/5)
I once glibly commented to a friend of mine that, while I love many of TV on the Radio’s songs, I felt like they were one of the greatest bands to never make a great record. From their first album on TV on the Radio showed immense promise as a band. They crafted a unique sound for themselves that combined punk, new wave, funk and electronica into unexpected arrangements (if you can remember back to their debut, then you also know they briefly dabbled in acappella, and it was actually good). And yet despite punctured flashes of brilliance, I had never found an entire album by TV on the Radio completely satisfying. For their first three albums, the best songs were pushed to the first half of the record while the less impressive efforts weighed down the back end. Despite all of their brilliance as songwriters, it seemed as if they couldn’t maintain the quality of their best efforts for the entire span of an LP. With the release of Nine Types of Light, TV on the Radio’s fourth album, I can no longer make the same claim about TV on the Radio’s awkward tackling of the album format.
Perhaps it is because the band has finally cracked the code of the long player, or perhaps it’s because they learned to cradle the slow numbers as well as they rock out on the obvious singles, but whatever the reason, TV on the Radio have made the best album of their career. From the funk stomp of the opener, “Second Song,” to the shout out loud closer, “Caffeinated Consciousness,” Nine Types of Light maintains a consistently high level of quality. Some numbers may grab the listener more immediately than others, but I guarantee you that any single track off Nine Types of Light would be a highlight on nearly any other group’s album.
As usual, TV on the Radio effortlessly turn in invigorating screamers whose hooks veil the fact that the lyrics could have been written by the Greek figure of death, Thanatos. “No Future Shock” conjures up images of a dance party in the middle of social and political entropy, while “Repetition” dares you not to dance to a tale of drugs, death and violence. The latter track even breaks down so that Tunde Adebimpe can provide a moment of spoken word introspection that sounds like a schizophrenic version of Vincent Price. Perhaps no other band can make humanity’s death drive seem like so much fun. But the real stunner about Nine Types of Light is that the slow numbers are perhaps the best songs off the album. The real standout here is “Killer Crane,” which leaves not a note out of place. Employing warm atmospherics, subtle strings, and even something that sounds like a banjo, TV on the Radio evince absolute control over every detail, confident enough to combine different instruments without overstuffing the song. “Killer Crane” speaks of regeneration and coming to terms with past scars, and it is this catharsis, as well as its placement in the album, that positions the song as the album’s centerpiece.
Fans of TV on the Radio have had to cope with rumors of a band break up over the past few years. Either because of solo albums, a temporary hiatus, or merely because the band seems overflowing with talented musicians, it sometimes appears that each TV on the Radio album could be our last. I hope this isn’t the case, since Nine Types of Light feels like work from a group who still has plenty to say. The final song off the album, “Caffeinated Consciousness,” is also the most aggressive, as if the band is attempting to say, “We’re just getting started.”