Time’s a healer, but art doesn’t half help, too. Arriving three and a half years after bassist Gerard Smith’s death from lung cancer at a crushingly young 36, TV On The Radio’s fifth studio album could be forgiven for drawing inspiration from the darker side of the emotional spectrum. But, in reality, ‘Seeds’ is a happier, shinier set than most will have been predicting.
It doesn’t exactly explode, firework-like, into life – but then, TVOTR are rarely ones to quicken pulses right out the blocks. They’ve always been at their best when adopting the slow-build approach to anthems, and opener ‘Quartz’ certainly doesn’t represent a shift beyond third gear for these musicians. ‘Careful You’ is comparably measured, an electronic pulse forming its central spine for lyrics en français to sing of long-held love, of learning the “secret of a kiss”. It’s a tender but oddly cold number, open but distant, like the photo of a loved one just out of focus.
‘Happy Idiot’ (video below), ‘Winter’ and ‘Love Stained’ are more dynamic affairs. The first is something of a flashback to indie disco floor-fillers around the time of the first Bloc Party album, busy percussion and easy vocal hooks matched by barbed riffs that successfully dig in on their first fly by. It’s a little by-numbers, perhaps, and doesn’t stretch any real creative muscles – but it is the sound of this band enjoying themselves within comfortable parameters, and the energy here is undeniably infectious.
‘Ride’ opens with a sombre intro that sets the mind running to an ‘Electro-Shock Blues’ parallel – but any comparison to that brilliantly bruised Eels album, made in the wake of personal tragedy, evaporates as the tempo builds and what began as tentative piano lines are emboldened by vigorous fingers. “Think about the future,” says frontman Tunde Adebimpe; “I know it’s mine, I’m gonna ride.”
‘Seeds’ isn’t dwelling in the sadness of the past, then, but pointing the way towards the next phase of this band’s evolution – not up there with its makers’ very best releases, but a welcome indication that they still absolutely mean business. They’ve lost a dear friend but they’re not afraid of the future, and the album’s title itself should serve as promise of further greatness to come from this essential band.
Words: Mike Diver
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