Fans, critics and supreme music snobs are calling TV on the Radio's new album, Nine Types of Light, a "happier" product compared with the New York art-rock outfit's previous stuff. That, however, is a palatable way of saying that this is TVOTR's first record made for the masses, a commercial nod from a band that's always been a funkier, albeit more obtuse, Talking Heads.
Is this a sellout from the champs of the musical avant-garde, a band whose name typically falls from hipster lips? No. Is it something to play for friends who think your taste in music is highfalutin garbage? Yes. Your eye-rolling pals will like it, too.
Led by vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, and shaken 'n' stirred by geeky guitarist producer Dave Sitek, TVOTR has always indulged in crowd-pleasing genres: rock, funk, punk, soul. It's just that they often Cuisinarted those elements into head-scratching purees, with songs becoming jittery, fragmented creatures that charm one second, confound the next. Every now and then, the band delivers a smash a la 2006's ferocious Wolf Life Me and that's when you wonder about its shot at greater mass appeal.
Nine Types of Light is significantly mainstream, perhaps because the band is dealing with themes of love rather than, say, geopolitical strife or whatever it was freaking about on its last album, 2008's Dear Science.
On such tracks as Second Song and You, the falsettos coo-oo-oo over isolated guitar waggle and street-strutting drums, and if you're thinking Prince, yeah, sure, why not. On No Future Shock, it turns a stew of griot caterwauling and Tron synths into a contained boogie of the damned, Wilson Pickett's Land of 1,000 Dances made from apocalyptic parts. New Cannonball Blues is all urban attitude ("The vultures got you stuck up on the shelf"), a sonic slapfight.
Instead of imploding, this batch of TVOTR songs tends to hang together. Much has been made about the Big Apple band heading west to L.A. But there is indeed a breezy, cinematic sheen on the 10 tracks, from the end-credit swoon of Killer Crane to the romantic heat of Will Do.
Of course, don't overlook the LP's hyped-up closing cut, Caffeinated Consciousness, which blaringly signals TVOTR's return to business as usual: "Can we shift the heat back / To when your heart's grown cold?"
With the death of bassist Gerard Smith, themes could darken. In other words, enjoy the "happier" while you can.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.