What comes after the apocalypse? According to Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio: dance parties and sexy love songs. Seriously. Their industrial noise-rock epic Return to Cookie Mountain was a pessimistic glimpse into the uncertain future of rock and roll. Filled with fuzz guitars, disjointed samples and scathing synths, Cookie Mountain confounded some the same way Marty McFly’s solo at the end of “Johnny B. Goode” completely befuddled unready ’50s teens in Back to the Future. Dear Science, their third full-length, is the equivalent of McFly dropping into some Johnny Mathis… and rocking the shit out of it.
The opener “Halfway Home” starts with TVOTR’s familiar buzzing guitars as singer Tunde Adebimpe evokes Joey Ramone with some playful “ba-ba-ba’s.” Quick rhythmed, but softly spoken, the track builds over four minutes before exploding into a barrage of fuzz bass and slicing guitars from Kyp Malone and Dave Sitek. Fittingly, “Halfway Home” serves as much of a purpose to the album as its title suggests. From out of the darkness of Cookie Mountain emerges the new TV on the Radio; reformed, refined and passionate.
Step one in the program, the dancehall-ready “Crying.” The funky guitars and horns are straight out of James Brown’s “Sex Machine,” and not every band just calls up their good friend David Bowie to drop some backup vocals. They follow that up with “Dancing Choose,” an indie-rock take on R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” Like Michael Stipe, Adebimpe riffs on the popular culture, name-dropping hipsters in American Apparel, Axl Rose, Weimaraners and the musical “The Music Man” in one song. The beat goes on with the single “Golden Age,” not to be confused with the Beck song of the same name, but easily confused with the dance-off/pants-off bass rhythms of his 1998 album Mutations.
Musically, Dear Science is an unquestioned departure from Cookie Mountain, but the real departure is the album’s optimistic, romantic lyrics. This is the “age or miracles, the age of signs,” according to Adebimpe, who believes a “Golden Age” is coming. He used to sing “I was a lover before this war,” now the war is over and Adebimpe is in love. “Hey Jackal, fuck your war,” he sings in the general direction of Bush and McCain on the porno-groove “Red Dress.”
After getting hot and sweaty on the album’s dancy first half, TVOTR slow it down on the second half with a slew of ballads. The pianos on “Family Tree” are hauntingly beautiful, so much so that Coldplay’s Chris Martin ought to be taking notes.
It’s misleading to call Dear Science a step backward. While not as futuristic and sonically daring as Cookie Mountain, the follow up is just as sonically stunning and is as much a complete and purposeful concept record as its predecessor. Besides, every great dance move has to have a few back-steps.
Words By: Bill Reese[Rating: 4.5/5]