According to vocalist Karen O, the pulse-slowing synth epic, ‘Spitting Off The Edge Of The Earth’ was a byproduct of evoking David Bowie in the studio and tapping into his “frequency of artistry”. The expansive lead single from Yeah Yeah Yeahs new album, ‘Cool It Down’ bypasses the expectations of the band’s typical explosive track formula. From the measured instigating lyrics (“Cowards, here’s the sun / So bow your heads”) to pressure building drums, the track shies away from any chaotic and cathartic relief fans of the band are accustomed to.
Produced by fellow Brooklyn art-rock experimentalist, Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio, and featuring Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas duetting lyrics on the impending climate collapse (recruited for the song because “Mike really has a bit of Bowie in him”, says O), the opener acts as a warning shot of what’s to come from the raucous New York City band’s first album in nearly a decade.
Since releasing ‘Mosquito’ in 2013, O, Nick Zinner, and Brian Chase have spent their time focusing on their personal lives, solo projects, and resurrecting their 2003 debut ‘Fever To Tell’ for a string of nostalgic tour dates. The band were a clear winner of Meet Me In The Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s explosive paean to the 00’s New York rock scene, and the whimsical – but influential – ‘indie sleaze’ Instagram account.
The band say the ten-year gap was unintentional, but it was the “collective trauma” of the early days of the pandemic, coupled with the fear of never being able to tour again, that pushed them back into the studio. The results are eight tender tracks that see the band stretching their creative limits and scaling down their propensity for bombast. They may no longer rebel by means of beer-drenched live sets or dangerous five-foot falls from the stage, but by creating from inspiration instead of expectation, they’ve managed to stage a revolt of sorts.
Look no further than ‘Lovebomb’. Here the band soundtrack an otherworldly odyssey, with O speaking instead of singing the lyrics “Oh, when the hearts fall in love / Oh, let no one see you” before she begs: “Stars don’t fail me now”. It’s a reminder that The Man Who Fell To Earth’s influence has bled its way into more than just the album’s opening track.
In the fiery dance-floor ready, ‘Burning’ the band continues to enlist space symbolism, pouring out lyrics on glowing meteors before the chorus, which samples The Four Seasons’ ‘Beggin’, kicks in. It’s a bold track, but the quieter moments reward a careful listener: “what you gonna do when you get to the water?” O whispers at the bridge. Later, they lean into a meditative pace with ‘Blacktop’, evoking visuals of slow-motion dancing under lightning, as O recites sage lyrics: “Oh, as I was young and easy / In the mercy of his means / Time held me green and dying/ I sang in my chains like the sea”.
Some of the album’s finest moments feature the band optimistically evaluating the disordered state of the world around them. ‘Fleez’ highlights the joy of taking risks, as O notes how “it feels nice to roll the dice once or twice” over quickening percussion. In ‘Wolf’, a cinematic chorus sees her reiterating the words “into the wild” as if she’s delighting at the thought of entering untamed territory. ‘Different Today’ expounds on the joy and uncertainty of change. In it O’s sings about how the “world keeps on spinning out of control” up against bright synths; letting go, they pose, might not be such a bad thing.
Creating something new while standing in the shadow of a behemoth love ballad like ‘Maps’, or a timeless dance-floor anthem like ‘Heads Will Roll’ could be a daunting proposition to some. With ‘Cool It Down’ the trio disregard expectations with ease, bursting through conjectures with tracks that make the apocalypse sound fun.
This return, then, isn’t a revisit to the band’s heyday or even a modern take on what that sound would be like decades on. Instead, it’s Zinner, Chase, and O evolving with not only their experience but innate imaginative ingenuity in tow. Despite its acute focus on the current bleak state of things, the album shines a light on a brighter and divergent future; not just for the world, but for a band who continues to evolve among critiques that their past is the best part of them.
‘Cool It Down’ is a creative testament to how refreshing it can be for bands to look forward instead of backwards, and as O said while describing the album’s opening track, “it’s galvanizing, and there’s hope there”.
- Release date: September 30, 2022
- Record label: Secretly Canadian