By RYAN MARR
Hailed as a masterpiece of modern disconnection when it hit record stores in 1997, Radiohead’s “OK Computer” provided the beautifully melancholic score to a world going to Hell, consumed by an insatiable desire for faster technology, fatter corporate pockets, and ever-elusive security.
Now, over a decade later and in the midst of that Hell— the financial crisis, an election year sure to shake up the political status quo, looming environmental issues — TV on the Radio have pulled themselves out of the rubble, strapped on a pair of dancing shoes, and fashioned a revolutionary, art-pop masterpiece heralding a return to a pre-“OK Computer” world of primitive human love.
“Dear Science,” the heavily-anticipated follow up to 2006’s nearly flawless “Return to Cookie Mountain,” finds TV on the Radio continuing to blaze the sonic trail they began on “RTCM,” seamlessly blending a ridiculously diverse palette of influences—funk, blues, hip-hop, jazz, electronic— into dance-driven pop-rock anthems that are as catchy as they are profound.
Album-opener “Halfway Home” wastes no time laying out the album’s theme via a stadium-ready anthem built on a soaring synth drone and Jaleel Bunton’s pounding tom hits coupled with guitarist
Kyp Malone’s backing scat and the breathy vocals of front man, Tunde Adebimpe.
“The lazy way they turned your head/ into a rest stop for the dead,” Adebimpe sings, as the anthem builds to its lyrical climax: “Go ahead throw this stone/ into this halfway home.”
The band follows up this first stone throw, with a handful of funked-out, dance-party ready tunes, one cleverly titled “Dancing Choose.”
Crisp, Prince-channeling guitar phrases, bumping bass groves, and David Sitek’s always refreshingly original production-work light these songs with a sensual fire fittingly suited to Adebimpe’s voodoo-frenzied delivery.
“Here it comes like a natural disaster/ blowin up like a ghetto blaster/ Ah here it comes bring it faster!” Adebimpe chants on “Golden Age.” “The age of miracles/ the age of sound/ well there’s a golden age comin round!”
At its essence “Dear Science,” is a manifesto of this “golden age,” a world liberated from the alienating tyranny of technology, founded instead on the most primitive of human emotions: love.
“Family Tree,” an album highlight, mines this thematic vein and finds TV on the Radio handling even the quieter moments with an undeniable grace— reverb-drenched piano chords build into a hauntingly poignant string-laden love song detailing a couple’s resignation to their fate in a family’s cemetery plot.
On the other hand, the album’s closer, “Lover’s Day,“ is a triumphant celebration of saxophones and horns, parading snare rolls, and Adebimpe’s wailing ruminations on the redemptive power of “cannibal love.”
“Yes here of course there are miracles/ a lover that loves that’s one,” Adebimpe sings into the rubble of an empty future that suddenly isn’t so bleak anymore.
As a precautionary warning, “Dear Science,”— in yet another kiss-off to an A.D.D. generation of technology-junkies— demands an Adderall-supplemented attention span and a quality pair of headphones to really delve into the dense layers of Sitek’s production. However, the albums rewards patience and, with the exception of “Red Dress”— the sole lackluster track on an almost perfect record— songs reveal initially hidden depths on repeat spins.
Despite its genre-defining appeal, it’s tough to predict where “Dear Science,” will stack up over time in the canon of seminal albums—granted, it’s still a bit premature for the “OK Computer” comparisons— but nevertheless, expect TV on the Radio to be sitting securely on top more than a few best-of-2008 totem poles come December.