TV On The Radio, Dear Science (Interscope, 2008)

The members of the interracial New York City band TV on the Radio bring together a wide array of influences, from rock to jazz to funk to electronica to hip hop. They released their third full-length album Dear Science in September, to significant critical acclaim. Rolling Stone, in fact, named Dear Science their album of the year.

To be fair, TV on the Radio deserve plenty of credit for their eclecticism and originality. Tunde Adibempe (vocals), Kyp Malone (vocals, guitar, bass, synthesizer), David Andrew Sitek (programming and sampling, guitars, bass, synthesizer), Gerard Smith (bass, keyboards, synthesizer, samples), and Jaleel Bunton (drums, guitars, keyboards, bass, synthesizers, programming) play around with a bunch of styles and their own quirky ideas to create a sound that's very unique. The problem, at least for me, is that if you take the experimentation out, what's left of the songs doesn't add up to much. Other than maybe the singles "Dancing Choose" and "Golden Age," the melodies and writing don't really hold up to scrutiny.

When Paste Magazine made She & Him's Volume One their album of the year, they rewarded a collection of songs that were fun and pretty well-written, but not all that original. Intriguingly, Rolling Stone has instead rewarded an album that scores high on originality but low on genuine musicality. What this proves, I guess, is that it's tough to find artists who can create a strong collection of songs while also breaking new musical ground, and people wind up settling for one or the other. I understand the difficulty. Other than Pina's 2002 debut album Quick Look, I can't think of any record this decade that I would unequivocally give an A+ to -- and that's not because I haven't been looking.

If I had to place myself in one camp, I'd side with well-written songs with strong melodies and solid instrumental performances, regardless of whether the sound is cutting edge or retro. Unfortunately, TV on the Radio doesn't score well with my criteria, and Dear Science just didn't do that much for me.

Overall grade: C+

reviewed by Scott

"Golden Age"

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