SUPERTOYS LAST ALL SUMMER LONG


TV On The Radio: Nine Types Of Light

If the magisterial TV On The Radio had, by September 2006, acquired a reputation as doomsayers, it was only their response – as true artists – to a geyser of fear in full profusion midway through Bush’s second term – there or thereabouts the very belly of the beast. Two years on and within a tortuous hair’s length of salvation, Tunde Adebimpe hollered on ‘DLZ’: “This is beginning to feel like the long-winded blues of the never”. Now, years after the war, they put the pieces back together again under the soft light breaking over peacetime, LA County.

Nine Types of Light is an album about finding yourself again in the quiet. “In isolation: a transformation” sings Adebimpe on ‘Killer Crane’. In a recent interview with The Guardian Adebimpe spoke about the strain of adjusting his mindset to the new era, after a decade of dread and defence: “Panic can become a very fruitless security blanket and it makes it easy to default to the negative” he confided “…The truth is you’re lucky to feel anything”. On ‘Second Song’ it is the enveloping power of music that stymies Adebimpe’s night-terrors (“when the night comes I’m feeling like a pyro”) and for once he “doesn’t have a single word to say”. Blissed out, with his “restless mind” quietened, he informs us that while we struggle to define the “heartless times’ he’ll be getting down to the business of making babies, like any veteran worth his salt.

On the album’s centrepiece ‘Killer Crane’ Adebimpe departs their new lodgings in Sitek’s LA digs and travels out to the Pacific; the trembling low-end building the suspense. On the edge of America he releases his trauma, memories and dark thoughts to the wind, in the form of the titular representation / psychic projection / power animal / wot-not. The killer crane soars “after the reign / after the rain-bow”. Over the chorus’ flower-child woodwind and cello-like synths he remembers the times before the strife, a vision of long-ago happiness he once dreamed about on the frontline: “Sunshine / I saw you through the hanging vine / a memory of what was mine / fading away”. It ends in mellow harmony, with a couple of strums of acoustic guitar flicking the switch off again. Adebimpe is “suddenly unafraid”. Truly a timeless depiction of redemption.

To paraphrase Ron Kovic, it’s as if for TV On The Radio America feels like home again. Bathed in a dusky vapour, the euphonious opening three tracks exhale nine years of tension. The first – ‘Second Song’ is a study in relaxed simplicity. There’s church organ, a piano and a crescendo that positively gleams. Whereas before the horns and brass would convulse and alarm, on Nine Types they pump your chest full of melodic goodwill, while the synths at the beginning of ‘Keep Your Heart’ – gossamer, pinkish chem-trails – might have been molten and diabolical a couple of years back. Then there’s the woozy little fireflies spinning and flitting around the verses of ‘You’ or the plaintive oriental xylophone at the start of ‘Will Do’. “The plan was to make music in real life, for real life” Sitek told Rolling Stone. Throughout, the arrangements are sketched and the production is unobtrusive and forgiving, shorn of the hi-tech grandstanding of yore and culled of both that beastly quality and the live-wire paranoia that plagued the high end, while the vocals are one-take and unfinished. As opposed to the poly-rhythms of before, its most transcendent moments are steadied by Bunton’s metrical, softly luxuriant hip-hop beats. Exampled in the barely perceptible (but indispensable) electric caramel that coats the YYY’s ‘Turn Over’ and ‘Gold Lion’ it’s Sitek’s skill as a handsome texturologist which benefits Nine Types… most keenly.

It’s not all tenderness and summer evenings though. As Adebimpe attests on the twitchy ‘No Future Shock’ he still sleeps with his gun. The ogreish funk carnage kicked upon ‘Repetition’ echoes the thoughts of men constantly looking over their shoulders, eyes peeled for the next sign of danger “the cracks will be obvious before too long” Adebimpe frets on ‘Repetition’. A throwback to Return To Cookie Mountain, the swaying and brilliant ‘Forgotten’ is a typical New Yorkers’ take on the Orange State, full of mordant foreboding and talk of plastic paradise. It’s a strange land they’d rather just forget: “Hold tight / our lover’s day written into the sky / we’ll fade into the night” caterwauls Malone. Final track ‘Caffeinated Conscious’ almost sounds like Faith No More while ‘New Cannonball Blues’ is stern and domineering (unfortunately save some swooping Stevie Wonder-like brass, like ‘No Future Shock’ its a very stilted, uninspired relation to the vibrant pop-funk which populated Dear Science).

Since their inception the Brookynites have obsessed over a cataclysmic idea of romance, forever married to the defiant image of those lovers kissing beneath the shadow of the Berlin Wall – “and the guns, shot above our heads / and we kissed / as though nothing could fall”(they even went as far as covering ‘Heroes’ for the War Child album). It’s a macabre notion of romantic endeavour best summarized on Dear Science’s ‘Stork And Owl’ as such: “Death’s a door that love walks through / in and out / in and out / back and forth / back and forth”. The dilemma is, how do they sustain the passion of love in their love songs, when their protagonists are no longer shagging like it’s their last night on earth? The quintet have always appeared to subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s view that the only true romance is a doomed one. “They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever” quipped the writer, “…the very essence of romance is uncertainty”. Now that life seems less perilous, is the power of their heartbreakers somehow depleted? Another of Wilde’s truisms comes to mind – his conviction that “Where there is no extravagance there is no love”.

Nine Types of Light offers a far less opulent, dramatic ecology when compared to their earlier work. But it speaks of a more mature, less fatalistic, more realistic notion of love; one of caring, understanding, patience, soulful connection. Obviously it’s a less arresting interpretation, but it grows on you until its lambent warmth is in your bones, much like the album. The bombs no longer fall but “we’ll fall together in time, just the same…” Adebimpe harks on ‘Killer Crane’. More poignantly in the context of the entire album and TVoTR’s new musical era, as he sums it up on ‘Will Do’: “You don’t want to waste your life in the middle of a lovesick lullaby”. John Calvert

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