Album Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Facts about this album:
* Yeah Yeah Yeahs are Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase.
* Their third album, ‘It’s Blitz’ was recorded partly in a snow-bound barn in Masachussets.
* The album was produced by celebrate post-punk twiddler Nick Launay and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek.
Repent ye and make ready for the coming of the Lord: the end days have come. Frogs rain from the sky, the beer taps froth with blood and Yeah Yeah Yeahs have started using synthesizers instead of guitars.
Funny when you consider that production of the commercial synth predates both ‘Sgt Pepper’s…’ and ‘Beggars Banquet’, that sticking
a vintage Arp on your record in 2009 can still be considered some sort of reckless rush into modernity (especially considering how this album was rush-released because of internet leaks – not exactly future-embracing). Really, it was always surprising, considering the dance-dance-revolution that James Murphy et al have helmed in their adopted hometown, that Yeah Yeah Yeahs didn’t use synths.
In truth, their adoption of electronics on their third album sounds more evolutionary than revolutionary. But it’s an evolution amazing in tooth and claw. Although Karen O frets that “It’s not easy to change what you do when what you do is so badass,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ shifts of tack are less reinventions than reinterpretations of their driving force, the same ecstatic, wired thrill that runs from ‘Bang’ to ‘…Blitz’, the vibrant energy-explosion depicted by the smashed egg on the record’s sleeve.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, after all, have always been a club band, keeping their date with the night and channeling the feeling that if you spin fast enough on that dancefloor, you can whirl yourself right out of your body. It’s just that they’ve moved from the cider-smelling indie dive to the fancy uptown nitespot with the velvet rope.
And Lord is it the stuff disco dreams are made of. Sticking the overcharged rush of ‘Zero’ up front is a bold move, and on first listen, in the same way that ‘Gold Lion’ initially seemed to dominate ‘Show Your Bones’, it seems to skew the album. YYYs, however, are accomplished in the art of slow burn. And where their second album, despite its brilliance, sometimes felt confusingly paced, their third is masterfully put together, a proper, cohesive album with a journey. Less lairy than ‘Fever To Tell’ and less troubled and experimental than ‘Show Your Bones’, it’s a polished record, characterised most by the spangly bleep and thrum of ‘Soft Shock’, which, rising up from the bloody dancefloor of ‘Heads Will Roll’ into some sort of disco rapture, exudes the ‘cool stability’ that drummer Brian Chase claims characterises the album. Which is not to say it’s ‘mature’ or ‘restrained’ or anything boring like that: it simply glows with a radiant, quiet bliss before kicking in with a wholly irresistible chorus, Karen beseeching “Summer moon/Catch your shut eye in my room”.
‘Skeletons’ is the emotional heart of the album. Only four songs in, it creates a charmed, still space and quietly dominates it – in terms of sequencing, it’s a masterstroke. Sounding like the battle hymn of the intergalactic republic of love, its spare, slightly martial drums and hymnal hums of synth are topped by Karen’s poignant plea of “love, don’t cry”. It’s amusing to think that people used to dismiss this band as ‘style over substance’ so adept are they at getting the balance between fashion and passion exactly right.
Leading us out of the calm centre of euphoria into a dark back room of the soul, ‘Dull Life’ floats in slow and spacey before crashing into a rollicking rush of a chorus, Karen howling, “The beast that I lie beneath is coming in” over – yes – classic Nick Zinner wheeling, wiry guitar. Most similar to their raw work on 2007’s ‘Is Is’ EP, it reveals the fretful energy that always lurks just inches beneath their new sheen. The dark core, though is the pairing of the ominous, bassy rumble of ‘Shame And Fortune’ and the doomy, desolate lonely wash of ‘Runaway’, Karen moaning “lost, lost, lost my mind” as synth swathes build around her into a Interpol-worthy sea of sound. Then, just as we’re about to bid farewell to this cruel world and sink beneath the sine waves, we’re yanked back blinking into the pink-and-green disco lights of ‘Dragon Queen’, where Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio and Karen weave a far superior version of the kind of his-and-hers hormone-fugged retro slink peddled by Glass Candy, before being kissed back
to life by the sweet pop lullaby of ‘Hysteric’. The acoustic-and-synth folksiness of ‘Little Shadow’, similar to Karen’s Native Korean Rock work, rounds things off with a walking-home-in-the-early-hours feel.
So sure, it’s no revolution, but ‘It’s Blitz!’’s heartfelt love letter to the transcendent possibilities of the dancefloor is an unexpectedly emphatic reassertion of why Yeah Yeah Yeahs are one of the most exciting bands of this decade. Better than that, they know how to “shake it like a ladder to the sun”.