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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The band TV On The Radio is known for its complicated and experimental sound. Our critic Robert Christgau says the group's new album, "Dear Science," is their most accessible. But that doesn't mean it's not complicated.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: In 2006, TV On The Radio began their acclaimed "Return to Cookie Mountain" like this. Pay attention to the sonics, but pay attention to the opening words, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I WAS A LOVER")

TV ON THE RADIO: (Singing) I was a lover before this war. Held up in a luxury suite, Behind a well-barricaded door. Now, that I've...

CHRISTGAU: First, that strange striking synth riff. Then Tunde Adebimpe's falsetto moan, "I was a lover before this war." It's a strong lead that sets a somber, personalist political tone, seven simple words that say an enormous amount. "Halfway Home," the opening song on their new CD, "Dear Science," also starts with a bang. But again, listen to the lyric that follows.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HALFWAY HOME")

ON THE RADIO: (Singing) The lazy way they turned your head, Into a rest stop for the dead. And did it all in gold and blue and gray.

CHRISTGAU: I love that opening. It's like they're folding New Order's "Age of Consent" into The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird." And the words "The lazy way they turned your head into a rest stop for the dead" are moderately clever, if strained. But to me, "and did it all in gold and blue and gray" means nothing and evokes nothing. And later in the song come even clunkier lines. I care about lyrics for the tone they set as well as the themes they establish. And verbally, this first song implies that "Dear Science" will be labored and ungainly. Musically, however, that doo-wop hook hints that this could be their most melodic and funky record ever. And in the end, that's what we get. Midway through the album, there's even this Prince homage, "Golden Age."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "GOLDEN AGE")

ON THE RADIO: (Singing) Age of miracles inside, And there's a golden age coming round, coming round, coming round.

CHRISTGAU: That is a Prince homage. And there's some Bowie in there, too. But this is not pop "Dance, Music, Sex, Romance." It has a sourness to it. Lyrically, the album clears up as it proceeds. But always there's off-putting verbiage. The off-putting stuff is there for a reason - namely, to put us off. Because TV On The Radio are sick of living with pessimism, and also because they wants to move forward musically and commercially, they've brightened their tunes and their beats on "Dear Science." It's easily the finest and most accessible record of a distinguished career. But they haven't escaped the darkness. Hear them beg God for relief in "Shout Me Out."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SHOUT ME OUT")

ON THE RADIO: (Singing) I know your reason is doubted and you're feelings dissolved in your passion, dear. It's burning your ass, And it's killing your mind, And its broken your atmosphere. But should you find it obscene in that grain(ph), Or dramatic (unintelligible) young heart, Say Lord if you've got love, come on shout me out.

CHRISTGAU: Clearly, TV On The Radio are conflicted. Both literally and metaphorically, the war continues. They don't want to wallow in its misery, so they brighten up. But four of the five members of TV On The Radio are African-American, and they're obviously aware that transcending misery through entertainment has been African-Americans' job in American culture since the days of blackface minstrelsy. So, it's fitting that the strongest track on "Dear Science" confronts this issue in so many words. It's called "Red Dress," and it epitomizes an album where ease always contends with difficulty, and fun can't swallow substance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "RED DRESS")

ON THE RADIO: (Singing) Hey slave, they called, we caved, We answered to a new name, Shout it loud, Shouted lame with black faces. You're such a good dancer, Oh, you're a star.

BLOCK: The new album from TV On The Radio is called "Dear Science." Robert Christgau writes the consumer guide to CDs at msn.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "RED DRESS)

BLOCK: You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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