Thursday, January 13, 2011

TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

★★★★★ Tracks:

I Was a Lover
Wolf Like Me

The best story behind TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain is hearing how David Bowie’s vocals ended up on “Province.” Sometime around 2003, Dave Sitek sold a painting to a man who happened to be Bowie’s doorman. During the exchange Sitek asked if the buyer might pass along a copy of the band’s demo to the illustrious songwriter, and not only did the doorman oblige, but Bowie took the time to listen to it and came out the other end a full-fledged fan. Shortly after TV on the Radio’s Young Liars EP was released, Sitek was at a gas station when he received a call. When the man on the other end claimed to be none other than David Bowie, Sitek promptly hung up the phone. The group apparently had a friend who liked to act out a lot of practical jokes and Sitek assumed this was one of them. Bowie had to call back two more times, finally stating, “No, I’m really David Bowie,” before the reality of it began to sink in. “He probably said some really important things that I was just too startled to pay attention to,” Sitek says.

Since then Bowie has advised the band in a number of ways, and when TV on the Radio finally began working on their landmark record Bowie joined the group in the studio to collaborate on a song of his choosing. When asked about the recording process of Return to Cookie Mountain, Sitek was quoted as saying he wanted to make “music you will listen to when the whole world burns up,” and nothing on the record ignites cataclysmic imagery more so than “Province” does, the song Bowie chose to collaborate on. The voices of Adebimpe, Malone, and Bowie blend apocalyptic metaphors with cautious words on the irrevocable path the country appeared to be headed under the Bush administration. Stirring underneath, a barren bass line and distant guitar melody explode in to a wall of sound at the chorus while all three of them begrudgingly croon, “hold your hearts courageously as we walk in to this dark place...” The dust eventually settles in to an eerie four note piano line.

Return to Cookie Mountain’s greatness has been written about everywhere, from being listed on countless “Records of the Decade” lists to being fully endorsed by some of the biggest recording artists ever. Not only is it critically acclaimed, but it also found TVOTR gaining mainstream traction, charting as high as #46 on the U.S. charts. The group quickly began appearing on shows like SNL and Letterman, rocking arenas and benefit concerts, and even contributing a downloadable track to the Rock Band series. It’d be difficult for me to pick a favorite TV on the Radio record, but if I had to recommend one it’d probably be Return to Cookie Mountain due to a few key tracks. “Province” has already been mentioned but “Wolf Like Me” is the catchiest of the bunch; another song that represents Adebimpe’s preference for imagery and metaphors over direct storytelling, carnal instincts towards lust and love predominate the lyrics he so ferociously spews. In the end though my favorite might just be the waltzy “Dirtywhirl,” one of the most intriguing, contemporary takes on old soul and doo-wop I’ve heard.

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