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TV on the Radio

by David King on May 4, 2011

Nine Types of Light
The word earlier this year was that the new TV on the Radio would be sans snarling guitar, static, and searing feedback. I thought I had a basic understanding of what that would sound like thanks to their last release Dear Science. Pulsing bass lines, sublime funk and rising choruses that felt simultaneously retro and futuristic. None of that “Wolf Like Me” guitar rave-up. My assumptions were flawed. Nine Types of Light strips the band of its sharp, progressive edges and leaves them in boxier confines.

Album opener “Second Song” kicks things off in unassuming fashion. “Confidence and ignorance approved me/Define my day today,” Tunde Adebimpe sings in a bored baritone. The song meanders along until the chorus explodes and the band’s classic falsetto vocals erupt: “Every lover on a mission/Shift your known position into the light.” The surging chorus doesn’t feel as natural and stunning as on tracks off of Dear Science or Return to Cookie Mountain. Despite the flash of the enveloping hook, the band seem like they are retreating, stripped-down, looking for comfort. The theme continues throughout the album—no more rough edges, no more sinister funk—instead feeling a bit like a tour of ’80s pop. While the band’s lyrics have been focused on conflict and heartbreak in the past, Nine Types of Light seems to revel in the in-between: lost love that there is a hope of rekindling, the freedom of not caring about the future.

The band certainly have been influenced by David Bowie, who guested on Return to Cookie Mountain. There are traces of Young Americans here. But most of Bowie’s drama that the band was so good at capturing is gone, replaced by a simpler, less pretentious, certainly more straightforward approach—a lot like Phil Collins at times. And when the horns kick in and the tempo picks up, like on “Caffeinated Consciousness,” the album hints at more ’80s pop influences. Think Huey Lewis and the News; think Living Colour. “Will Do” is by far the album’s greatest pop ditty, a romantic drift where Adebimpe ponders the price of a new relationship. “It might be impractical/To seek out a new romance/We won’t know the actual/If we never take the chance,” he sings in a conversational tone. He could take it, he could leave it. And in the chorus he assures his possible lover, “Any time will do.” He’s thinking about the danger of passion. Honestly, I hope the TV on the Radio find more of both.