Back when I reviewed TV On The Radio's last album, Dear Science, I claimed it to be the band's career highlight to date. It's a statement I'd stand by, and yet I still can't help but feel that of their first three albums proper (I'm disregarding the self-released demo OK Calculator from 2002 as it's tricky to come by) it is still Return To Cookie Mountain that I always come back to. That record's bass-heavy, stuttering electronic production still sounds thrilling and fresh, and there are several tracks on that album ('I Was a Lover', 'Province', 'Wolf Like Me' and 'Dirtywhirl') that continue to mean far more to me than anything on its follow-up. As great as a record Dear Science is, it just didn't feel quite like the TV On The Radio that I loved.
Nine Types of Light was released a few weeks back now and I can safely safe it answers the concerns I had about the previous record whilst continuing to demonstrate the progression and growth of the band. From the opening bars of 'Second Song' it is patently clear TV On The Radio have still got it, and they haven't lost their ability to open their albums with absolute blinders. It feels like like the sound of a band emerging from the storm still tied to rigging and finding it irresistable to greet the world with anything but a beaming smile. This is a band that have been through some difficult times in recent years and sadly things haven't eased since Nine Types of Light was released, with the passing of the band's bassist, Gerard Smith, last week. Somehow though they still sound positive and in fact, on 'Second Song, complete with its 'ooh oooh' vocals, they sound more positive than ever. A brass backing only further adds to the effect, sounding like a band coming out punching, legs and arms flailing whilst they try and connect.
Perhaps the answer to this new found enthusiasm is the oldest of all, for more than anything else Nine Types of Light is a record about love, as evidenced on the lovelorn 'Keep Your Heart', with the vocalist belting out the words: "I'm gonna keep your heart / if the world falls apart / I'm gonna keep your heart". It's the sound of selfishly putting another first, and you can't help but hope it works out for him.
The theme is revisited several times throughout the album but probably nowhere better than on single 'Will Do', a paean to forbidden or unrequired love that bursts open with a shuddering bass line, to create the most electronic track the band have released since Return To Cookie Mountain. The lyrics betray a man unprepared to let life and love slip through his fingers, almost angry that the subject of his affections would dare waste the opportunity. If it sounds desperate, that's because it is, but you can't help but feel that the song is justified in its honesty all the same.
This isn't just a record of love songs, though. 'No Future Shock' revisits the band's fondness for celebrating the bleakness of our apparent future, encouraging us all to dance to the sound of the end of the world. 'Repetition' similarly celebrates misfortune, seemingly mocking the singer's own paranoia and inability to break the cycle. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
If you really want evidence of TV On The Radio's new found optimism though then go no further than 'Caffeinated Consciousness'. The excellent Fluxblog recently posted this song and likened it to the sound of someone trying to turn Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' into punk rock and I wholeheartedly agree - it sounds like raw energy turning the listener's hands into megaton weights and feet into jet engines... to resist is futile, as the singer says: "I'm optimistic, on overload". It's a fitting close to a great album.
Nine Times of Light is the best of both worlds - an album that continues to reveal more with repeated listens yet still has the hooks to have you addicted from the first listen. This is a brilliant record, eclipsing the band's best work.