Albums of the Aughts: TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain

In my college career, few great parties have simmered down to the bitter end before first having a lively, climactic sweat-fest to the four minutes and 39 seconds of “Wolf Like Me.” Amidst a mix of our favorite dance, electronic or pop songs — and maybe a few Wilco singalongs — someone finally makes the move to the iPod to play that soulful, rapturous tune and, from that initial chilling bell jangling noise, to the moment where we’re shouting together that we’re “howling forever,” everyone seems to go into a trance. It’s beautiful, unifying and, well, it kind of feels like what the end of the world might feel like.
Turns out this phenomenon might be exactly what TV on the Radio intended when they recorded their 2006 follow-up, Return to Cookie Mountain. As the story goes, the band was at the time watching Apocalypse Now over and over again; absorbing themselves in the idea that something big was on its way in our increasingly fragmented society, that all signs seem to be pointing to a sudden crash, and that our generation could be the one to see the end of humanity as we know it. Of course, the men of TVOTR were not alone in this sentiment. Depending on what social circle you associate with, you may have heard all about the Mayan prophecies or about the supposed correlations between the “Book of Revelations” and what is occurring right now in our world. Flip on National Geographic and you’re bound to hear about the “Super Volcano” that will soon make a giant crater out of North America, or about the impending alignment of planet Earth with the super massive black hole at our galaxies center. 2012! For fucks sake, it’s even a movie now. Sad but true; Hollywood is apparently not above exploiting the rapture a little bit, or of making a quick buck before it happens in, (according to the very title of the movie), a little over two years from now.
However, when I listen to Return to Cookie Mt., I don’t hear panic or a cautioning tone of what’s to come. Yes, there are tones of sadness and even perhaps disparity, but I also hear redemption on almost every track. Opening song “I Was a lover,” moves drearily enough throughout with warped, somber horns and droning sitar effects, but for a moment — reminiscent of the key change on Kid A’s “Morning Bell,” — the piano suddenly picks up and the vocals soar: “Let’s talk to kill the time!” The fading out and then suddenly redoubled, syncopated clattering of snares, handclaps, pipes, trashcans and whatever else they’re hammering on during “A Method,” sounds like a rally, almost a jubilee. By the time I reach “Tonight,” with its gorgeous, twinkling ambience and Adebimpe’s encouraging lines: “A rusty heart starts to whine in its tell tale time…You’re busted heart will be fine in its tell tale time,” I feel renewed. And then there’s the album’s great outpour of soul, “Wolf Like Me,” which, as mentioned above, is not at all mournful, but a cathartic release of pent-up emotion and frustration for all in the room. Regardless of whether or not you prescribe to one of the many running apocalypse theories, I think TVOTR’s message on the subject is clear: free up the tension on your world-weary soul, feel blessed in what’s around you and the people you love. If we’re in for the big one, let’s make sure we feel free and united before it happens, not apathetic or afraid.

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