tv-on-the-radio-seeds

Perpetually billed as forward-thinking music intellectuals, TV on the Radio have carried that mantle for the best part of 15 years. It’s a title that’s well deserved: full-length debut ‘Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes’ was a dissonant masterclass of pulsing electronics, wrestling tensions, and Tunde Adebimpe’s restless vocals; ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ stirred up a sonic cyclone of primal anthems that sound as vital now as they did in 2006, and the dense yet hopeful ‘Dear Science’ emerged as the band’s most commercially successful release to date.

Anger and ingenuity have always been the power driving the feral vocal howls and Dave Sitek’s peerless production, but setting such a consistently brilliant pace inevitably made fourth album ‘Nine Types of Light’ a relative step down. And after the devastating death of long-time keyboardist/bassist Gerard Smith, shortly after that album’s completion, it became a long way down.

Death hangs hopeless and heavy over everyone at some point in life, and it’s weighty on ‘Seeds’. Even set against the patience and serenity of ‘Nine Types of Light’, the pleading vocals of ‘Quartz’ and the gentle throb of the mournful ‘Careful You’ make this an uncharacteristically subdued opening. But from political anger to hopeful redemption, grim commentaries to love, life and loss, TVOTR have rarely shirked the difficult issues. Here it’s no different, just more cathartic.

Moving away from the swimming ’80s dynamics and cavernous percussion, ‘Could You’ brings the Saturday Night Live bluster with showy brass pomp, but it feels as robust as a half-hearted smile. There are no such concerns about the killer hook and feisty melancholy of ‘Happy Idiot’, though, as it blooms into an impeccably catchy Coxon-meets-New Order earworm.

It quickly brings us to the downbeat ‘Test Pilot’ which is arguably the straightest song the band has ever written – a devastatingly tender slow jam fraught with Tunde’s falsetto croon, and the kind of tumbling guitar iridescence with which you want Explosions in the Sky to break your heart. It’s gorgeously uncharacteristic and a track that, cynically, stands out for its simplicity.

On ‘Love Stained’, they move onto similarly contemplative ground, veering towards ‘Silent Alarm’ era Bloc Party before re-discovering some spirit on a conflicting, mini battle between surging sonic triumph and sparse arrangements that ultimately feel unresolved. It’s a dynamic that plagues the latter half of the album with the snotty, scuzzy ‘Winter’ sounding flat and forced with every repetitive progression, and the one dimensional rock of ‘Lazerray’ adding little.

TV on the Radio have always made a righteous noise. Steeped in deep-thought, oozing soul, and fired by an impulse to either shake your fist or move your feet, we expected and hoped for more of it here. But as they try to reassure themselves on the pleading ‘Trouble’ (“Everything’s gonna be ok/oh I keep telling myself/don’t worry be happy”) it seems this time round, they just want to reflect. God knows they’ve earned it.

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