The trio of men residing behind the ironic mask known as TV on the Radio first came to prominence in 2003 with the release of the much-heralded Young Liars EP, an inspiring series of songs brimming with the trademark sounds of Old New York, as popularized by such bands as Talking Heads and Television at CBGB in the 1970s. Their debut album, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, picks up where Young Liars left off, co-opting such varied musical styles as free jazz, gospel, new wave, soul, punk, doo-wop and electronica. While those familiar with the trio's debut EP may carp on this full-length as status quo, fans with a longer attention span will recognize this album as a harbinger of a new sound, melded from a variety of disparate, but tried and true, genres.
This tension of old and new is evident from the outset as opener "The Wrong Way" mashes
together fuzzed-out electric guitars, squawking horns in the vein of the Sun
Ra Arkestra, and lazy vocals recalling the political diatribes and delivery of
Stewart on the seminal There's a Riot Going On. The fusion of these maddening
elements presents itself as a sprawling and magnetic composition that exhibits
TV on the Radio's boundless skill and creativity.
The subsequent two uptempo tracks, "Staring at the Sun" and "Dreams," both have the potential to be hit singles with the necessary editing. Both contrast the impassioned lead vocals of Tunde Adebimpe with the firmament-grasping falsetto of guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone, above the instrumentation of drum machine, electronic loops and guitar. Of the two, "Staring at the Sun" stands out more than "Dreams," mostly due to Adebimpe's repetitive chanting delivery and the angular guitar lead of guest player Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Picking up where their rendition of The Pixies' "Mr. Grieves" (from the Young
Liars EP) left off, the doo-wop-based, a cappella "Ambulance" illustrates
the vitality to be found in this relic genre that can still captivate a new generation.
The real victory is that TV on the Radio show a vocal confidence and ability
usually missing from the typical indie release.
The shortcomings of Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes can be chalked up to the growth cycle many young artists go through during their initial releases. Such compositions as "King Eternal" and "Bomb Yourself" suffer from meandering, redundant arrangements that diffuse the impact of strong choruses. The other weakness is the lack of live drums on seven of the nine tracks. Guest drummer Jaleel Bunton's playing on "The Wrong Way" and closer "Wear You Out" brings a dynamic, fluid feel that is missing from the remainder of the album.
While Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is far from a perfect offering,
this album provides a plethora of outstanding moments reminiscent of the musical
exploration the band's heroes The Pixies exhibited on their debut longplayer, Surfer
Rosa. Like The Pixies, TV on the Radio call upon lost genres as the foundation
for their songs and utilize strong vocal harmonies to give these songs a mainstream
sheen. Some may feel they have taken the Icarus risk and flown too close to the
sun, but this is a strong debut from an act with a promising future.