According to the New York Times, Brooklyn's dance/funk/rock hybrid TV on the Radio may be gaining "more clout as an influence, a group revered by others, than as a success of its own." Could the band's surprisingly upbeat new album, Dear Science, which sold a respectable 34,000 copies in its first week of release, change all that?
"What, you mean make them less influenced by it?" asks TVOTR drummer and multi-instrumentalist Jaleel Bunton with a laugh. "I keep hearing how the record is uplifting, and I guess that was a fairly conscious thing. But it's really funny, because it makes you look back on our career so far and go, 'Wow, are we that morose? Are we that much of a drag?' It's like we've dragged everybody through our personal muck, and then: Wow, thank God these guys have stopped moaning about the world."
Well, not entirely. Opening lines like "Hey jackboot / Fuck your war," "Congratulations on the mess / You made of things" and, bleakest of all, "He's a WHAT? He's a WHAT? / He's a newspaper man" aren't likely to end up on American Idol.
Still, pop fans are eased through the rougher moments by the band's penchant for echoing, however unconsciously, the likes of Prince, Talking Heads and David Bowie. They even borrow from the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" on "Halfway Home," which also boasts a keyboard progression and falsetto vocals that evoke, of all things, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis.
Bunton, who professes to be a fan of early Genesis, has heard the Gabriel comparison before: "I'll tell you, I became tired of it much later than [vocalist] Tunde [Adebimpe] became tired of it. The band's gonna kill me for saying this, but there's a line on the first EP where the inflection reminded me of Peter Gabriel when I first heard it. I think it's really due to the resonance of his voice, like if you're playing a similar saxophone or guitar."
Beyond wide-screen production and lush arrangements, Dear Science includes contributions from members of Antibalas and Celebration. Still, TVOTR's most famous guest appearance remains that of longtime fan David Bowie, whom Bunton describes as really down to earth.
"I didn't really embrace the fact that I was sitting next to David Bowie on a little shitty couch in a little shitty studio in Brooklyn until he was in the booth tracking and I heard his voice come out of the speakers," he recalls. "I was like, 'Oh, wait, that's David Bowie! It's really David Bowie, not just some guy hanging out with two different eye colors in a studio."
These days, an increasingly optimistic Bunton is no less awed by the prospect of a Barack Obama win Nov. 4: "There's obviously always been a divide in this country, a racial divide as well as a cultural divide. I've always very much felt on the outside of that, and you develop your personality around that. And for me, to readjust and be unashamedly patriotic maybe for a minute, it's really a feeling that I never had and when I think about it, a feeling I've always really wanted."