The soul/art-rock cross-pollinators TV on the Radio could probably be a great genre-crossing platinum seller à la OutKast. In fact, if you close your eyes for a second and ignore the CD booklet, you might well figure the two relatively normal pop offerings on Return to Cookie Mountain, the elegiac crooner "Province" (which includes background vocals from enthusiastic booster David Bowie) and the relentlessly peppy rocker "Wolf Like Me," to be outtakes from a suppressed Andre 3000 solo disc. Their sense of a musical hook is that refined, and both primary singer Tunde Adebimpe and falsetto specialist Kyp Malone are that capable and expressive when they're on the mike.
But though they have all the tools and talent for making mainstream hits, sticking to the script isn't the TV on the Radio way. And that's their special - and at times especially maddening - charm. Splicing and recombining influences as varied as Parliament-Funkadelic, Roxy Music, the Residents and, yes, Bowie, the recent indie-rock grads take an asymmetrical path to the inner ear. Just when a vocal melody becomes familiar and thoroughly pleasing, they set off for the most idiosyncratic reaches of art-rock, smearing the mix with wooshing, Peter Gabriel-style synthesizers or hanging on a snipped bit of fuzz-tone guitar that suggests rock without actually rocking out.
Frankly, not everyone will thrill to TV on the Radio's experiments. This is very dense music, and singular tracks like "Let the Devil In," "Dirtywhirl" and "Blues From Down Here" (which manages to merge synth-rock with Delta blues without seeming forced) demand patient consideration and repeated listening before all their glories are revealed. But there's a lot here, and thanks to band co-founder Dave Sitek's production work, very little of TV on the Radio's full-on experimentation ever careens into a creative cul-de-sac.