yeah yeah yeahs
I have to admit, when I opened the March 2009 issue of Spin Magazine, whose cover stars were the Yeah Yeah Yeahs fronted by a horrifically leather and spiked clad Karen O, I was a bit nervous for the trio’s upcoming release which vowed to “bring back dance rock”. I become nervous when anyone commits themselves to such an endeavor but my stomach became a bit queasy as I read through the article which basically stated the Yeah Yeah Yeahs would conquer their musical identity crisis through reviving the questionable novelty of the early aughts dance rock explosion.
My first thought was that Karen O had spent just a bit too much time in the wishy washy La-la-la cement sprawl of SoCal and had lost her edge – despite all of the silver thorns jutting from her personalized KO leather jacket. I was also not thrilled about the band’s first single, “Zero”, which made my stomach turn upon the first few listens as it’s airy electro pulses and skyrocketing vocal ballad reminded me of a bland top 40 nod to U2’s catalog. The Spin article noted that Nick Zinner’s guitar work, an imperative aspect of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s unique sound, would be replaced by his new affection for keyboards and drum machines and would even disguise his guitar tones through effects to sound more electro-punk.
The YYY’s bold statement of making it clear they don’t care what critics or fans think of their transition only fueled my curiosity and I made my way down to the listening station of Jackpot Records. As I begin to actually purchase music, I was skeptical over buying an album I felt disappointed during most of the 30 second previews of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s It’s Blitz. I am a tough music listener to crack into and have very little patience with songs that don’t catch my interest within seconds. There were songs I immediately vibed with such as the dark shaking percussive jives of “Shame and Fortune” which was only because it reminded me of the YYY night prowling astounding 2007 EP, Isis. However, in all honesty I was just about ready to play the role of the betrayed fan, get out the shovel and bury their genre hopping fluff under the ground to decay with the likes of post-alcholism Cat Power.
However, on Record Store Day I ended up buying the vinyl version of It’s Blitz which the band had chosen to release specifically for the special occasion of honoring indie record stores. Besides, I did happen to really like the artwork, a rapid fire photograph of Karen O’s red nailed hand clamping down on an egg, yolk flailing through the white backdrop. The record also came with a voucher to redeem online for a digital copy of the music – a concept I fully support and advocate record labels to continue to prosper off of.
Once I uploaded the music into my I-Pod and took off on my bike ride to work my initial impressions were to be overturned.
ZERO: I’m sure if you are one of those people who enjoy U2, Journey or any other 80’s ballad band you will dig this song. I interpret it as one of those optimistic coming of age stories where you are reinventing yourself and choosing the enter the world as an outsider reborn into a modern society. The tune begins slowly with an electro arpeggio and elevates into a glitzy pop mantra with Karen O on top of the world. The song takes off like a motorcycle revving up and skidding off upon fresh pavement – entering brave new territory. About halfway through one of Nick Zinner’s electro-fuzzed out creations takes the lead in the song and is a tasteful nod to Devo or The Cars.
HEADS WILL ROLL: As “Zero”‘s acceleration fades off, “Heads Will Roll” begins with a digi-string arrangement washing in as an immaculate transition. However, the serenity won’t last but a few seconds until some thick pumping drums roll in and Karen O challenges the listener to dance until you’re dead. I guess they were serious about bringin’ back the dance rock. Halfway through the song O’s voice reaches a lightly glazed vocal realm that rivals Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass”.
SOFT SHOCK: The energy dips a bit at first in the third track with “Soft Shock”. Karen O’s melody is reminiscent of other introspective mid-tempo songs in the YYY’s back catalog but still manages to sound fresh. Nick Zinner’s guitar is very present in this song and I can see where other critics related it to sounding like a keyboard. It’s smooth heavy fuzz guides the song. While “Soft Shock” may be a bit too soft for the fans of the sprawling havoc of YYY’s earlier work it will probably sit well with those who enjoyed the cleaner pop elements of their Show Your Bones era.
SKELETON: Karen O’s voice reaches emotional disintegration above the orchestral ambiance of “Skeleton”. Highly minimalist at first the song is composed of a distant guitars/keys underlying a somber hum much like wavering strings in the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”. The lyrics are especially well written in this song. Eventually Brian Chase clicks his sticks repeatedly breathing new life into the song which realizes itself as a door to the other world with memorable non-word that would make The Arcade Fire proud.
DULL LIFE: This track is definitely a surprise. It picks off where “Skeleton” left off with a quiet guitar and a disdained Karen O and then dives into a punk rock romp that is anything but dull.
SHAME AND FORTUNE:
When bands take bold steps into new directions they run the risk of gaining new fans and alienating their veterans. In “Shame and Fortune” I like to think they are appeasing their old time fans with this guitar based frenzy that howls back to their roots of Fever To Tell – fist pumping, crazed dancing and swallowing microphones. Zinner retreats back to his signature guitar riffs while Brian Chase’s tom heavy provocative drums married beautifully with a discreet drum machine and plenty of shakers to get you going.
RUNAWAY: Similar to “Skeleton”, “Runaway” starts off slow with a faintly pricked piano and vocal. Then they repeat the whole song but do it a second time faster and add screetching strings and tremendous drums.
DRAGON QUEEN: Probably the most adventurous attempt in “recreating dance rock” – or hopes of winning the favor the gays, the YYY pull out all the glittery disco nostalgia
HYSTERIC: Opposite from the song’s title, “Hysteric” would rather put one at ease with it’s calming mid tempo and reassuring lyrics: “You suddenly complete me”.
LITTLE SHADOW: Beginning with a soft organ the closing track of It’s Blitz is an early morning ride home rising into an epic stadium worthy ballad.