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TV on the Radio – Crying [4ad]

May 20, 2009

If anyone deserves a subtle tipping of your hat in their general direction it’s these Brooklynites. TV on the Radio’s third full-length release Dear Science topped numerous ‘album of the year’ lists in 2008 and officially challenged indie rock to a dance-off. Unlike the moody, weed-smoke haze of rock that filtered through most of 2006’s Return to Cookie MountainDear Science is at its heart a dancefloor record.

TVoTR successfully played with the idea that rock can still function as rock even after it’s been profoundly molested by every other genre under the sun.

Afrobeat, benga and favela rhythms run amok on Dear Science, possibly attempting to jolt audiences at concerts out of a comatose standstill. And with heavy infusions of electronica, they’ve taken a purple sheet of paper out of Prince’s mid 80’s notepad by channelling his often critically ignored masterpieces Around the World in a Day and 1999. They missed out on the deep-rooted and dirty funk but they’ve got the basic idea.

Both of these elements come out in ‘Crying’, one the album’s most danceable tunes. The deep, rumbling voice juxtaposed against the falsetto, the catchy guitar riff and a new wave beat that functions as the song’s translator in a room full of clubbers. This is a clever disguise for a track with an undeniable political agenda. Something that shines through much of Dear Science that was significantly influenced by the US election that was taking place while it was being recorded. ‘Blood on the cradle and the ashes you wade through, got you callin’ God’s name in vain’ being an obvious swipe at Bush’s religious romancing, followed by ‘take this car, drive it straight into the wall, build it back up on from the floor’; a metaphorical request for the next candidate to scrap current policies and start from scratch.

But while we’re on the subject of songs about crying, it’s worth taking a look at where this one stands in a long history of tracks it shares a title with. 1962’s ‘Crying’ by Roy Orbison is off a whole album of the same name, a classic ballad of its era (Ronson eat your heart out). But two of the best songs that TVoTR has to compete with hail from the same year, 1993’s classic Aerosmith track and Björk’s offering from her album Debut. Fuck me if those two aren’t one of the best power ballads in rock music and the filthiest early 90’s dance track respectively. It’s almost like in the production process of their own song, TVoTR melted them down, mixed them together and poured them into a new, politically-charged mould.

[Originally reviewed for Avenue 61]

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