Few reviews of The Radio Dept.'s latest have shied away from the fact that Clinging to a Scheme has been nearly four years in the making, initially promised to see the light of day back in September of 2008. Setback after setback has, as is only natural, furthered a great deal of anticipation among fans, and it ultimately works to the album's detriment. Clinging to a Scheme has got everything a Radio Dept. fan is looking for: sweet, dreamy melodies, gentle, floating atmosphere, and a masterful blend of electronics and guitars. However, this is precisely what keeps it from excelling - it's just another Radio Dept. album, which does still make for a pleasant listen, but hardly merits the long wait.
The softened edges of the group's last full-length, 2006's Pet Grief, are the only thing that seems to have changed, as they're even softer this time around. As a result, the songs feel more of the same body than they ever have before, and for better and for worse, the tracks blend into each other seamlessly here. Perhaps the clearest example comes with the songs between two of the very few standouts on Clinging to a Scheme, Heaven's on Fire and The Video Dept. Heaven starts out with a clip of Thurston Moore lashing out at the music industry before easing into what is probably one of the band's best melodies yet, utilizing their excellent knack for broad instrumentation. A synth hops pleasantly over a somewhat somber guitar, and a lively piano leads in to a great horn outro. Video follows this formula with similarly successful results, beginning with a bluesy, twang-inflected guitar, and then getting topped off by a lo-fi distortion and vocalist Johan Duncanson's distant voice, crooning a soft, almost shoegaze reminiscent melody. Unfortunately, the three songs in between have none of these standout qualities, and thus simply hover in between these two, keeping the listener company after Heaven wows them until Video arrives.
This is not to say that these songs are bad, mind you - they just hide inside the album's atmosphere far too well. This Time Around starts off great, with upbeat percussion that make the song seem as if it's going to stand out, but past the dual guitar presentation, not a whole lot happens, and the song goes on for nearly four minutes on the strength of that and random minor tweaks. Memory Loss has a bit of a dub flavor to it, but again, this isn't really explored, and the song goes nowhere. Clinging to a Scheme finishes strong, however, starting with the single David, which has a very energetic, almost funky beat that gets pianos and synths piled on to spectacular effect. The closing You Stopped Making Sense puts the band's melodic and layering skills to far better use than seen on the majority of the tracks simply by giving each instrument more to do, and letting each melody breathe and progress alongside each other, rather than make them harmonize together to the point of monotony.
Clinging to a Scheme is quite good, to be sure - those who fell in love with Pet Grief will most likely not be disappointed. The only real issue is the sameness among the tracks, not only on this album, but how similar they are to those on the last album as well. This is particularly frustrating when taking into account just how good the standout cuts here really are. Clinging to a Scheme seems appropriately titled, as it sees The Radio Dept. slipping into a contentedness with their sound. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as they're still quite good at what they do, but it doesn't make for a very interesting future.