The problem with TV On The Radio is that they just have too many ideas. Their earlier albums were bursting with innovation and Dave Sitek's heavy production so that the listener was left battered and slightly bruised by the experience, which was admirable no doubt but never quite fulfilling. The marvellous Dear Science, came closest to realising the band's potential becoming album of the year for me and many others. It has been a couple of years since that however and after a creative hiatus that could have been permanent it is very exciting to have a new album to talk about, eagerly awaited by plenty I'm sure and I'm glad to say it doesn't disappoint. It might not quite match its predecessor, the band seem to be enjoying themselves far too much to worry about that, but it certainly consolidates their position as 'art-rock' band it's almost impossible not to enjoy.
The first album to be recorded in California rather than Brooklyn, following Sitek's westward migration it's impossible not to comment on the positivity of an album bathed in light and dealing with themes of celestial convergence and that good old universal - love. It opens with Second Song which slowly builds its brassy call for 'Every lover on a mission shift your known position into the light,' before breaking down musically to ask for something far more radical: 'Oh body-mind leave me behind/And I'll do you one better/While you define/Your heartless time/I'll defend my love forever.' This is followed by the album's only slight bum note for me, Keep Your Heart beginning well but never quite developing into anything other than a rather horrible falsetto screech near the end. Things get back on track with You which is one of those songs that sounds retro and futuristic at the same time with its Vangelis-like keyboard sweeps, something exploited not so long ago by the Fever Ray album. In fact there's something reminiscent of that album at the beginning of No Future Shock but that is quickly jettisoned in favour of jangling guitars and an insistent call to dance. Killer Crane strikes a very different chord slowly building its piano, choral tones, strummed guitars and even what sounds like a banjo for those who are impatiently awaiting the new Fleet Foxes album. It is a gorgeously orchestrated piece and by that I don't mean that it is neat, far from it, it has the kind of honest instrumentation that makes something like A Day In The Life such a joy.
Will Do opens with some lyrics that I think Prince would have been proud of in the past for the way they mix humour with polite propositioning for sex - 'It might be impractical/To seek out a new romance/We won't know the actual/If we never take the chance/I'd love to collapse with you/And ease you against this song/I think we're compatible/I see that you think I'm wrong.' But it is actually a touching song about memory - 'Anytime will do/What choice of words will take me back to you.' TVOTR know how to change the atmosphere and New Cannonball Blues comes in heavy with a funky, bassy keyboard swagger for an instant change-up. Then we have Repetition's plucked bass undercurrent, which runs along like something from a 70's TV series. It seems at first to be a song fraught with danger, 'But I can't stop thinking/That it's all gone wrong/And the truth will be out there/Before it's too long,' before that celestial convergence arrives and the hollered repetition of the chorus drives it into a jumping rock-out finale. Forgotten eases you down nicely after that racket, or does for a while at least, building its menace first through lyrics that speak of 'Beverly Hills/Nuclear winter/What shall we wear/And who's for dinner?' and then musically too when it builds into a whistled military chorus, a song that equates fame with becoming one of the undead. I don't think I'll be the only one to hear the influence of INXS of all bands on album closer Caffeinated Consciousness with its alternating stanzas of shouted agitprop and softly sung chorus. The album seems to end there rather abruptly and there's a bit of me that thought 'Oh, is that all of it?', as I said this isn't quite the total album that Dear Science, was but this is a small disappointment that can easily be remedied by getting back to track 1 and starting all over again.
With the sad announcement on Wednesday that bassist Gerard Smith lost his battle with cancer it is worth mentioning that this album is not just an album, there is also a 60 minute film featuring all the music available here and which includes some poignant footage and even a hilarious California get together scene which I won't explain any further. For those who just fancy a listen to a straightforward stream of the album you can follow this link. For a quick shot just click play below to hear the gorgeous Will Do (it may take you via YouTube).