Like M.I.A. and, I guess, The Field, TV on the Radio has had a rancorous relationship with myself. They’ve been one of those groups to me that I’m sure every music fan has encountered that the people and critics around cannot stop raving about, but I cannot fathom how anyone could find them tuneful, let alone outright enjoyable. Coming into Nine Types of Light, TV on the Radio’s fifth album, I had a very distinct idea of what this group was going to sound like. I was expecting the outrageous, the flamboyant and the needlessly weird. If I didn’t have a heinous headache by this album’s end, I would probably pass out from boredom sometime in its middle.
That gaudy TV on the Radio shows up on about half of Nine Types of Light, which is probably why it is their worst received album to date. The group opts for tempered balladry as much it does for uproarious calamity. To their credit, now more than ever, it sounds like the group has enough of a grasp on their sound that they do not have to constantly puncture pleasure centers to distract from what they lack, which, to me, was always consistency. If it’s not as ridiculous as fans would have liked, it’s undoubtedly reliable, a sentiment that more than exceeded my expectations coming into the record.
I’m not even partial to either style featured here. The more active numbers confound my impression of the group by being fun and hardly grating. “Hey girl don’t mind the noise,” lead singer Tunde Adebimpe intones at the beginning of “New Cannibal Run”. “It’s just the sound of being dragged to Hell.” In that track, he sounds like a crazed Tone Loc over a deviously fuzzy bass line that shows off a humorous side I didn’t know the group could have. Adebimpe is particularly impressive on this album, his voice crisp and expressive enough to be the focal point of most of Nine Types of Light’s tracks. It’s adaptive to the slower tracks on the album as well, giving them a cracked flair even when they’re not necessarily shooting for the rafters. When he sings, “You’re the only one I ever loved,” in “You”, it sounds genuinely heartfelt. The slower songs are great, but my only criticism of them is that, when they get too slow, they sound like dead ringers for The National songs. “Keep Your Heart” and “You” are nearly indecipherable for their double-octave singing and mechanical percussion, and it certainly doesn’t help that both tracks are next to each other on the record. Nine Types of Light is frontloaded with these slower tracks, so it may sound slow to start, but all its songs stand up as solid musical statements.
So, basically, my reservations on TV on the Radio are fucked. They are a really good band, and, if Nine Types of Light is any indication, they are definitely capable of writing albums as good as people seem to think Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science are. That it’s just a really good album will most likely disappoint longtime fans of the brash expansionism the group seemed to take pride in the decade they’ve been around. Extricated from its makers’ legacy, Nine Types of Light is worth your time, and I’m more than content to wait and see what comes next. The album may not win TV on the Radio more fans, but it buys them more creative time to work on their next opus. The good news is I’ll be eager to hear it when it’s released, now.