TV On The Radio - Dear Science,
I was a spoilt brat as a child, not in a 'I want a pony' or 'I want my own Island' way but because I was lucky enough to listen to lots of Prince. And I mean the good stuff when he wrote songs and not just jams, I'm talkin' 'bout 'Parade', 'Sign O' The Times', 'Purple Rain'. It spoilt me rotten as I got to feast on dozens of different genres all in one sitting and all delivered smoking hot. Blues, funk, folk, jazz, electro, pop, rock -Prince had their number on speed dial. It's held me in good stead from bairn to bloke as I can pretty much appreciate any style thrown my way, which is useful when indulging the new dish from New York's TV On The Radio. Let's just say it's “hard to categorize”.
Over the course of it's 11 tracks you'll hear plenty of the Prancing Purple Pervert of Pop (“Prince” to you), some Super Furry Animals mushroom aperitifs, a fatback skillet of James Brown superbad, a fop or two of Bloc Party, a slap of village idiot Beck funk, some stock of strict Joy Division tap and a flash of Arcade Fire carnival parade. Yum yum, “Ambassador, you are reeelly spoiling us”,etc.
Musically this album is most definitely a rich course. I'm imagine the inside of their studio looks like the Northern Lights (but y'know captured in a Bronx basement). The tower of power horns in particular are joyful and triumphant. Just witness the New Orleans funeral celebration of closing track 'Lover's Day' - choirs, flutes, horns, the full kit and caboodle military tattoo - it's exhilarating to say the least. Now that's how you call it a day, marching out of the door in style; big band, dancing girls, elephants, gimps,the works.
Then why does the whole thing leaves me colder than Walt Disney? I checked my pulse, slapped myself across the face. No change. This is Indie Royalty! I'll be marched out of the ceremonial gates if I don't give this a straight 10/10!! I could always sneak out under cover of darkness, leave the country on a private plane, grow a beard and change my name to Ralph. No you're right that's ridiculous, a beard would never suit me.
Maybe it's because the music so often sounds like seven different bands all playing in the same room simultaneously. This can sound incredibly alive but equally sometimes muddled and annoying. Or maybe it's that singer Tunde Adebimpe sometimes sounds bored or disembodied from the magical kaleidoscope of sound underneath his feet. But I think the worst crime is simply the lack of actual proper songs. “Erm, Waiter, I can smell something funky but I definitely ordered some stone cold melodies, where are my songs Garçon?”. It's like they gathered the best musicians, the best producers, the best studio, but - damn it! - who forgot to pick up the songwriters?
There are a few times, thankfully, when Mr. Songwriter meets Mr. Groove, they shake hands and the craic is indeed good. 'Crying', for one, righteously shakes its moneymaker over a diamond and pearl poptastic 'toon. It's a proper radio song of Sly Stone falsettos, horns and sci-fi synth riffs and the kind of stellar supernova Outkast would love to adopt and raise as their own. The elegant 'Family Tree' is by far my favourite though, a strange and beautiful circus freak serenaded by a Siren's string quartet and the broken-heart of an orphaned piano. Breathtakingly gorgeous, it leaves you purring with an atomic Ready Brek glow.
The lyrics are admittedly pretty haute cuisine too from the “patience is a virtue until its silence burns you” to the “shadows of the gallows of your family tree”, and there are bounties of hey now! what's that sound? moments like the infectious drum clatter of 'Shout Me Out' or the Elvira church organ flapping around 'DLZ'.Yes there are bits of hits aplenty but like Mick Jagger said, I can't get no satisfaction.
Overall, 'Dear Science,' just left me hungry for some of Prince's 'Parade' album, which is what I had the Chef rustle me up straight away after, whilst I pirouetted atop a grand piano with some bird called Cat. Curse ye God for making me stand out in the 'Purple Rain' as a child and giving me this purple haze all in my brain!
I'm not pushing the “Emperors New Clothes” button here Comrades, but I'm thinking let's all calm down and have a nice Cup of Soup (TM)...and maybe in the morning, we'll organise a search party to look for those missing songwriters.
(*CD Times would like to state this since writing this review, Matt James has received a full psychiatric evaluation and is making good progress in a supervised 12 bar blues program. However, he wishes to assure readers he is definitely still available for Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and the opening of small supermarkets.)