I have a friend, not a young guy, who greedily scooped Dear Science off the Internet the day that it leaked, then couldn’t bring himself to listen to it for two weeks, so fearful was he of being let down. TV on the Radio can have this effect on people. They defeat casual interest—a couple of their songs in a row on the jukebox would clear any bar in Murray Hill—but they also inspire nutty, care-too-much devotion like my friend’s.
My own relationship with TVOTR is less complicated. Based on pure talent and the scale of their artistic ambition, I’d rank them among the best bands in New York, if not the best. They genuinely aspire to greatness. None of their peers can match their proficiency at bending and blending musical styles, fusing rock and jazz and soul and doo-wop and I could list ten more. But I found them easier to admire than to love. Their first two records had a habit of getting bogged down in clattering dirges; the melodies sung by Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone were lovely but could not always pull the songs out of the giant viscous puddles of sound that producer Dave Sitek sunk them in.
Dear Science, thankfully, has dispensed with the dirges and the puddles. The tempos are peppier, and Sitek softens the edges of the songs, using strings to great effect, especially on the slow but decidedly un-dirgelike ballad “Family Tree.” Maybe nobody listens to albums straight through anymore, but TVOTR clearly sweats the pacing along with everything else. There are wonderful transitions here, like when the operatic sweep of “Stork and Owl” cuts off and the funky guitar riff of “Golden Age” kicks in. The whole record is about the band skillfully weaving in and out of dramatically different textures and arrangements; each song plays with several musical ideas, not just one or two.
And the standout, never mind the hideous title, is “Love Dog,” which has gorgeous, layered horns and an echoing snare beat that might have been respectfully pilfered from Radiohead’s “Videotape.” (Oh, and speaking of pilfering, TVOTR might owe Tom Petty a co-writing credit for the verse on “Shout Me Out.”)
I was delighted to report to my friend that I was finally falling in love with this band of his and urged him to be brave and listen to the album. He finally did, and don’t you know it, he felt let down. He thought the melodies lacked distinction and worried that Sitek’s production had crossed the line into fussy and intrusive. But he wouldn’t argue with me about “Love Dog.”