Wednesday, October 21, 2009

#74. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain (Interscope, 2006)

The biggest problem I'm finding with doing both a favorite albums list and a favorite singles list is that when there's crossover between the two and I haven't gotten to the single/album when reviewing the album/single it makes the review feel incomplete. This is a bigger problem in the album reviews, because if I can't discuss one piece of the whole it feels like a bit of a cheat, whereas not discussing singles in their larger context can be more easily forgiven. Part of me wants to alter the order I'm doing this in for the sole purpose of discussing the single and album in tandem, but then there's the issue of maintaining something of a hierarchy in both lists. Really, this is a lot of boilerplate to introduce the fact that I'm not gonna talk about "Wolf Like Me" here, at least not in the depth it deserves. There will be time for that later.

It also leads to the question of whether Return to Cookie Mountain could survive without its single. Does it really matter if circumstances make it so that discussing one section of the whole album isn't feasible? I mean, I'm not doing a track-by-track breakdown or anything here, am I? Although that's probably the ideal way to go about discussing an album like Return to Cookie Mountain whose sequencing isn't integral to my enjoyment of it the way it for a lot of the albums higher up the list. It's a case where the strength lies in the pieces as opposed to the way those pieces fit together. That's only the case in the macro though; within each song the way the individual pieces of the mix work together is where most of my enjoyment comes from. Vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone don't take a straight harmony approach all the time, but play their voices off each other to make for a much more melodically interesting experience on songs like "Province," but the times they come into sync it's like a force of nature. The instrumental aspects aren't as interesting, but there are plenty of moments where producer Dave Sitek adds a distinct touch, the sitar on "Wash the Day" or the horns on "Blues From Down Here," that manages to elevate the tracks more than the vocals could. It definitely doesn't trade solely on the greatness of the vocalists and their unique sense of arrangements, and the production is much more varied than on the band's prior albums, but the moments I come back to are most often the ones where Malone and Adebimpe are pulling more weight.

Hard as it is to not draw on the obvious highlight to discuss that part, there's plenty of other tracks that illustrate just what TVOTR can do when they click perfectly. "Let the Devil In" for instance is one hell of a grower, and it's chorus is probably the single most powerful moment on the album thanks to the combined force of Adebimpe and Malone's vocals. Opener "I Was a Lover" takes some getting used to - especially if you grabbed the album when it leaked and can't help but think of "Wolf Like Me" as the real opener - but the combination of the oddly timed instrumental and the usual vocal interplay is downright addictive after you get on its wavelength. "Blues From Down Here" just slays me on every level, and "Playhouses" is just as frantic as "Wolf Like Me" but without the latter's mania and the three bonus tracks on the version I have are all winners, especially "Things You Can Do" which plays like "Blues From Down Here"'s slightly less awesome little brother. Really the only non-starter for me is the nearly a capella "A Method" which kind of kills the momentum that the first five tracks built up but also gives a bit of a breather before "Let the Devil In" which serves to boost its impact.

The album's not as beholden to "Wolf" as you might think is what I'm getting at. It's the obvious highlight and I'll have more than enough to say about it when it's time comes on the singles side of things but there's 12 other tracks here that do more than enough to justify the praise the album receives.

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