As passionate as ever, but with a little more polish, TV on the Radio give their unapologetically ambitious sound room to breathe with a lush, expansive production on Return to Cookie Mountain. The sonic depth throughout the album is a sharp contrast with the density of their first full-length, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, which was so jam-packed with sounds and ideas that it was nearly suffocated by them. However, Return to Cookie Mountain is hardly slick or dumbed down for mass consumption. In fact, the opening track, "I Was a Lover," is one of the band's most challenging songs yet, mixing a stuttering hip-hop beat with guitars of Loveless proportions and juxtaposing inviting vocal harmonies and horns with glitches and trippy sitars. "Playhouses" is only slightly less radical, with its wildly syncopated drumming and Tunde Adepimbe's layered, impassioned singing. At times, Return to Cookie Mountain threatens to become more impressive than likable -- a complaint that could arguably be leveled against Desperate Youth as well -- but fortunately, TV on the Radio reconnect with, and build on, the intimacy and purity that made Young Liars so striking. David Bowie's backing vocals on "Province" are only one part of the song's enveloping warmth, rather than its focal point, while the album's centerpiece, "A Method," is another beautiful example of the band's haunting update on doo wop. Meanwhile, the mention of "the needle/the dirty spoon" on "Tonight" cements it as a gorgeous but unsettling urban elegy. As with all their other work, on Return to Cookie Mountain TV on the Radio deal with the fallout of living in a post-9/11 world; politics and morality are still touchstones for the band, particularly on the anguished "Blues from Down Here" and "Hours," on which Adepimbe urges, "Now listen to the truth." Notably, though, the album builds on the hopeful, or at least living-for-the-moment, vibe that emerged at the end of Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. The sexy, funky "Wolf Like Me," which is the closest the album gets to rock in any conventional sense of the term, and "Dirtywhirl," which spins together images of girls and hurricanes, offer erotic escapes. And by the time the epic final track, "Wash the Day," revisits the sitars that opened the album with a serene, hypnotic groove, Return to Cookie Mountain gives the most complete representation of the hopes, joys, and fears within TV on the Radio's music.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares