This is the official late pass for TV On The Radio. Nine Types of Light has been out for a good couple of weeks now, so anyone with more than a passing interest in the band will have bought it a long, long time ago. That’s the sort of devotion TV on the Radio inspires amongst everyone who has more than a passing interest in music that’s slightly left of centre. But to be honest, it’s the consistent lavishing of praise on them that’s put me off checking them out. So here am I, as an unabashed newbie, to lead you through a beginner’s guide to TV on the Radio.
In short, they’re a band from Brooklyn, New York and Nine Types of Light is their fourth album. Those are the facts. And as you might have guessed by the absurdly high rating, I’m the latest to join the bandwagon lauding them to the skies. Why? Well, because they make majestic, life-affirming songs. Ignore the art rock or hipster tags you might have heard, this is simply very, very good music. TV on the Radio have a gift for incorporating almost every strand of popular American music of the modern era and turning it into something much, much greater. There’s soul, there’s funk, banjos sit next to roaring horn lines, while mellotrons and synths jostle for space at the bottom. Add not one but two powerful voices in Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, and you can see to begin what all the fuss is about.
When some mainstream band (hello, Coldplay) talking about raising their game and creating a new sound, this is what they’d dream of making: music with a vaulting ambition that never loses sight of a tune, hook, lyric or the listener’s attention. It’s never forced or awkward, simply a celebration of life and music in all its forms.
And despite TV on the Radio’s reputation for making ‘difficult’ music, you’ll be reeled in straight from the opening of “Second Song” (that’s about how difficult it gets – the first song is called “Second Song”). It’s a gently stunning, ever so slightly epic, song that calls for every lover to shift into the light and sets a warm vibe that lingers for the rest of the album. Even “Killer Crane” and “Will Do”, both ostensibly about heartbreak and unrequited will leave you with a glow in your heart and a spring in your step. They’re that good. And that’s before we even get to the funk of “No Future Shock” and the wig-out of “Repetition.”
What all of the songs share is a deep emotional bond, lyrical directness and sheer quality that makes Nine Types of Light a quite fantastic album. The sort of album that will top all the end of year polls, just like all their previous albums. It might not be as ‘challenging’ as their previous work, or as ‘good’ as “Dear Science” (the best album in the world ever according to its disciples), but Nine Types of Light is a damn good place for those of us as yet unfamiliar with TV on the Radio to start investigating one of the most adventurous bands around today. And I can guarantee that if you start here, you won’t stop.
This review is dedicated to the memory of Gerard Smith, TV on the Radio’s bassist, who died on the 20th of April 2011 after losing his fight with lung cancer.