by Matt Meade
6. TV on the Radio – Dear Science (2008)
Return to Cookie Mountain is so good. It moves and sways and grows like a mold. It inhabits space and it bleeds like it’s a living organism. But if Return to Cookie Mountain is so good, why is Dear Science so impenetrable?
Did they use up all the good ideas on the previous record?
It sounds to me like the worst parts of Prince, Duran Duran, and that band who sang “Your Own Personal Jesus.” And those bands from the 80s all had an excuse for when they sounded like crap, or for why their records didn’t age well. Their producers were all coked up and thought the high ends on “Got My Mind Set on You” would sound super fantastic. We know better now. Not only that, but everyone with a laptop has access to the pre-set beats and horns that TV on the Radio pack into songs like “Golden Age” and “Crying.”
And that’s another thing. Who named these fringing songs? This is a band weird enough to have songs named “Dirtywhirlt,” and “Snakes and Martyrs,” clever enough to call an early EP OK Calculator, so diverse in their tastes and influences that they opted to be a part of the Daniel Johnston cover project and of all his songs, the one they picked to wail tragically over was “Walking the Cow.” This is a band so good at being a relevant rock and roll band that they introduced themselves with a song they called “Staring at the Sun” as if anyone but U2 could name a song something so dramatic and actually pull it off. And the best song title this creative, ambitious, super cool, super talented band could come up with is the same title of a song that sucky period Aerosmith had already used 15 years earlier?
The whole record is a lost and found of sorts. I spend the entirety of “Shout me Out” thinking about the far superior and absent of drum machine, “Running Down a Dream” by Tom Petty, while “Love Dog” recalls Radiohead’s perfect intro to Kid A’s “Everything in its Right Place.” I don’t want to spend an entire record wishing I was listening to other, better records, especially when one of those other, better records is Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, by the very band I am listening to.
I am baffled by the way this record was embraced by the press and by fans. I felt like this record was a forgivable misstep and I was ready to move on, but when I looked around I saw people everywhere eating this record up. And these were people whose opinions I respected. The blue slats of the so-phoned-in-I-don’t-even-know-what-to-say-about-it album cover glowed from their iPods, and they championed songs I could not bring myself to finish listening to. Did we love Return to Cookie Mountain so much that we were blinded to this album’s many faults? Maybe so. That happens. Oh well. At least Nine Types of Light was good. Or was it?
Song I would listen to if you held a gun to my head: The one profound exception to how bad this record is, is the song “DLZ.” This is a moody and inspired piece that simultaneously recalls Prince’s breathy work on Sign o’ the Times, Radiohead’s “Talkshow Host,” and BladeRunner. It’s so good it is almost worth listening to the rest of the record.
Listen to this Instead: You know what? Fuck it. Listen to Dear Science. There are worse bad records out there. I just don’t happen to get it.