TVOTR are firmly in the grip of a middle age that doesn’t particularly suit them.
Alex Denney 2011
TV on the Radio first tuned in with 2003’s Young Liars EP, a creepy, copper-toned missive that revealed a band with a Pixies/Bowie/soul fascination and an appealingly insular bent all of their own. A couple of albums followed that delivered on their promise, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes and Return to Cookie Mountain, before 2008 saw the release of a fourth (third ‘proper’) LP, Dear Science. By now critics had all agreed the Brooklyn five-piece were a serious proposition, and the record went on to become their biggest seller to date.
Nine Types of Light arrives in the wake of solo records from members David Sitek and Kyp Malone, and is even more of a relatively bloodless affair than Dear Science when compared to the band’s excellent breakthrough brace. This is the kind of record that draws portentous phrase-mongering from hacks like "TV on the Radio make Important Music for Important Times". Did you note the capitals there, guys?
More accurately, you might say that TVOTR have become the band Radiohead’s detractors are thinking of when they barb their arrows for the Oxford troupe. That’s to say, they’re an ‘intelligent’ rock group incorporating other genres into a cerebral whole that performs none of the functions those sounds are supposed to perform. With Sitek’s production as superfluously busy as ever, this set winds up an over-fussy, inconsequential stew of soulless soul, funkless funk, and rock that doesn’t really rock.
But never mind if the group fails to strike a single vital note: this is art, people, some will find room in their heart for songs as uninspired and studio-bound (to these ears) as No Future Shock and Keep Your Heart, the latter of which sounds like a funk band on Rohypnol and amounts to little more than a knackered retread of Lover’s Day off the last record. A sense of boredom pervades, but occasionally they’ll stumble into a sort of blind momentum, as with Second Song’s radio-friendly strut ("The music’s all around me / But I haven’t got a single word to say") and New Cannonball Blues, which starts unpromisingly enough but gathers pace with some rowdy trumpeting towards the end.
But mainly, Nine Types of Light finds the band firmly in the grip of a middle age that doesn’t particularly suit them. So to put it in the popular parlance, it’s a Dull Record for Times that are Anything But.