TV On The Radio’s third album plays like a combination of the best elements of the group’s first two albums. It has some of Return to Cookie Mountain’s experimentation, but without the awkward “party-stopping” moments. On the flip-side, it also has some of the “Peter Gabriel fronting a Creation Records band” sound of their debut, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Lovers, but with the ethereal sound plastered on so thickly it’s hard to find the five band members among the dense synths, strings, horns and programming. In fact, on most songs the augmenting musicians outnumber the band, giving Dear Science, (comma on purpose) some of the same grandiose quality as The Cure’s Disintegration. The “new thing” this time out is a bigger emphasis on funk. For the most part Dear Science, is a “party album”, which helps coat the malaise and political vitriol of the lyrics, but also makes for a great listen with “Crying”, “Dancing Choose”, and “Golden Age” their most dance-friendly tunes to date. If you were turned off by the band’s previous work, this may be the album to win you over.
By the time the opening track on TV On The Radio’s sophomore album ends you’ve been hit with mountainous shoegaze guitar fuzz, syncopated hip-hop beats, funk vocals, jazzy piano chords, and sampled sitar drones. Such dense reconfigurations of musical styles are both TV On The Radio’s best attribute and their biggest fault. Any fans worried that the group’s arty edge would be smoothed out by the move to a major label needn’t be concerned. The only sign of newfound major label status on Return To Cookie Mountain comes from snagging David Bowie to sing a few hardly noticeable lines on “Province”. If anything, Cookie Mountain’s songs are more challenging than Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes; it’s a tribute to the band’s boldness and also a warning to listeners that it may take a few listens to peel back all the musical layers and “get” this album, and even then you might still like their debut more. Anyone up to the challenge presented here will eventually have their patience rewarded by lead single “Wolf Like Me”, “A Method” (which sounds like Bjork’s all-vocal album Medulla, done with instruments), and “Tonight”, which boasts the best whistling in a song since Guns and Roses’ “Patience”. The US version is the one to get, with three bonus tracks tacked on for extra mind-warping.
“I Was a Lover” (Kyp Malone, David Andrew Sitek) – 4:21
“Hours” (Tunde Adebimpe) – 3:55
“Province” (Malone, Sitek) – 4:37
“Playhouses” (Malone) – 5:11
“Wolf Like Me” (Adebimpe) – 4:39
“A Method” (Adebimpe) – 4:25
“Let the Devil In” (Malone) – 4:27
“Dirtywhirl” (Adebimpe) – 4:15
“Blues from Down Here” (Malone) – 5:17
“Tonight” (Adebimpe) – 6:53
“Wash the Day” (Malone, Sitek, Adebimpe) – 8:08