TV on the Radio’s Nine Types of Light: An Advanced Review
The new album by TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light – comes out via Interscope tomorrow (April 12th). I, however, like many citizens of the Internet, have had it for quite a bit longer than that. And while not quite at all what I was expecting, it is rather good. A whole bunch of assorted thoughts follow.
I’ve been listening to TV on the Radio for as long as they’ve been around. I was real into them before they were cool. I’m hip like that. Well, not really. And I’m typically not one of those types. I’m instead usually very good at starting to listen to music right after it has become cool, or getting really into a band right as they become blasé. Anyway.
There is a point to me saying this. TV on the Radio has changed, and they’ve changed a lot. Nine Types of Light is the fifth album from the band, not including a more-or-less breakthrough 2003 EP titled Young Liars. Right now, this does not sound like a band that’s even capable of producing an EP called Young Liars, or an album called Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes.
That anger, that kind of distinctly punk darkness, it’s just about all gone. TV on the Radio’s last album - Dear Science, – foreshadowed this for sure. This was not an abrupt move to the light. But before moving onto the (many) merits of Nine Types of Light, it’s worth mourning something that seems to be pretty permanently gone.
There will likely be no more of the thumping, overly distorted guitar and dissonant horns of songs like “Wrong Way” and “Satellite.” Songs like “Don’t Love You,” with the achingly sad refrain of “I just want to let you know/I don’t love you anymore” seem antithetical to the new, more sexy TV on the Radio.
Most sadly (for me at least) is the end of the wistful a cappella. There was never much of it I guess, but for me, “Ambulance” off of Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is pretty much as good as it gets lyrically. It’s one of the most beautiful, poignantly sad songs I can think of having heard. Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone’s vocals here are beyond stellar. The song is sparse, haunting, and, now, gone.
But this is not all such a bad thing. We should want growth from our music. TV on the Radio, over the past 10 years, have clearly grown up. They’ve lost their angst, lost their punk side. What’s here instead is distinctly more fun, more danceable, more catchy. This doesn’t mean that TV on the Radio have sold out. They haven’t. Their music still isn’t for everyone, and their base unique sound – highlighted by Malone and Adebimpe’s range-racing voices and lyrics and Dave Sitek’s synths and production – is still around in spades.
What TV on the Radio have really done is abandoned darkness for Prince. And on Nine Types of Light, I mean that quite literally. Okay, so the Light bit may be a touch literal, duh. But on “No Future Shock” – a song with a chorus of “Dance! Don’t Stop! Do the No Future Shock!” – you can distinctly hear what sounds like Tunde Adebimpe shout “Let’s go crazy!” This move was intentional, and it has worked.
TV on the Radio’s last album – Dear Science, – made it clear this was coming. Songs like “Dancing Choose” and “Red Dress” off that album are straight dancers, and they really are a whole lot of fun. The last song on that album shifted the tone lyrically, with one of the – for lack of a better word – sexiest songs I can think of having heard in a while, “Lover’s Day.” And when you can make the lyric “ball so hard we’ll smash the walls” sound unquestionably romantic, you’ve done something very impressive.
Nine Types of Light furthers this. There’s not a distinctly dark, downbeat song on here. There’s nothing to compare to Dear Science,’s “DLZ” or even Return to Cookie Mountain‘s “Wolf Like Me.” Instead of a sullen Pixies a cappella cover like the one of “Mr. Grieves” on Young Liars, you get “Caffeinated Consciousness”: an electrically distorted dance song that sounds more like an homage to the Pixies’ upbeat “U-Mass” than anything else.
The first song on Nine Types of Light – confusingly/jokingly titled “Second Song” – let’s you know what’s up from the start. Tunde Adebimpe starts the song off sounding unmistakably like Lou Reed, and when the falsetto chorus kicks in along with some seriously ’90s poppy synths, there can’t help but be a creeping fear of change. The song all but carries a mission statement that the album proudly wears throughout: “I’ll defend my love forever.”
Because really, that’s what this album is about. It’s about love. And instead of “Ambulence” or “Satellite” or “DLZ,” this album is largely about the upsides of love. It’s all “Lover’s Day.” I am sure a lot of people will not be impressed by this. And it would be hard to reconcile myself to the album if it wasn’t so damn good.
Because that’s the thing. It’s really good. Maybe it’s because summer is lurking, and it’s nice out, and the album speaks to that. Maybe it’s just because I really like Prince to begin with. But the sometimes sappy lyrics and music on Nine Types of Light just feel endearing. These guys really mean it. And you can hear that on every song.
No song on the album really captures that as much as “Will Do.” It’s the first single, and it has been all over the place for a couple months now, but it really keeps growing on me with each listen. And there really have been a lot of listens. At times it seems like “love” is every other word in the song. And yeah, it definitely comes close. But it’s a genuinely pretty song, with interesting instrumentation throughout, curtsies largely of Dave Sitek.
What TV on the Radio has done for the love song is something beyond impressive: they’ve brought it from the mundane to the profound; from unlistenably boring and hackneyed to new, exciting, and touching. And as I said before, these are love songs you can dance to (or do things that are a little more naked than dancing).
I’ll always miss the other TV on the Radio. But fortunately, they left behind a pretty great body of work. There will always be time to listen to “Ambulance” and “Poppy” and I doubt I’ll ever tire of those songs. I can’t help but be happy that these guys are still around, even if a lot of that old sound isn’t.
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