Release Date: Mar 31, 2009
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
The cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' debut LP, 2003's Fever to Tell, set an early-decade benchmark for sheer ugliness, a deliberately heinous splatter of webbed blood, stabbed snakes, and flaming heads. The music was also confrontational, with lead singer Karen O following in the footsteps of countless riot grrls and righteous rock queens in crafting a persona of raw defiance and sexual menace. Fast-forward six years, and a glance at the instantly iconic cover of the band's third full-length, It's Blitz!, tells you all you need to know about how far the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have come, from Fever to Tell through the middle-ground growing pains of 2006's Show Your Bones and up to today.
For most of this decade, New York's Yeah Yeah Yeahs have worked wonders with the raw materials of rock'n'roll: yelping vocalist, scraping guitars, primal drums. Their third album offers an advance on the ecstatic dance punk of 2003 debut Fever to Tell and beefy rock of 2006's Gold Lion, boldly pushing synths centre stage while sacrificing none of their vitality. Only Dave Sitek's ponderous touch in the co-producer's chair drags, but otherwise that title could scarcely be more apt.
There is something fabulous about the chorus to Heads Will Roll, the second track of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' third album. For the first few minutes, yappy frontwoman Karen O sounds like an imperious 12-year-old. But then comes the chorus with its glacial 70s synths, and she suddenly bursts into life. "Off, off, off with your head!/ Dance, dance, dance till you're dead!" she booms, and it justifies her indie-icon status like nothing else she's ever done.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as we know them, are dead. Again. When this punky trio released their eponymous five-song EP in 2001, the group was immediately lumped in with the Strokes as the leaders of that much-ballyhooed “garage rock revival” that was to counterbalance America’s apparent addiction to the disposable teen-pop of the late ‘90s (note how the Strokes’ Is This It came out only two months after NSYNC’s Celebrity did—as blatant a paradigm shift as there ever was).
However, It's Blitz!'s bold moments are a bit misleading: the album's heart is often soft and searching, offering some of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' quietest work yet. This approach doesn't always work, as on the too-long "Runaway," but when it connects, the results are gorgeous. "Skeletons" is luminous with an oddly Celtic-tinged synth part; "Hysteric," a love song about being happy with someone rather than trying to make him or her stay, feels like the mirror twin of "Maps." The serenity in It's Blitz!'s ballads feels worlds apart from Show Your Bones in a much less obvious way than the album's outbursts.
The advance word that Nick Zinner was putting down his guitar and plugging in the keyboards for It's Blitz was substantially overplayed. Yes, Skinner gets more synthetic on a few songs, including grand-slam-off-the-first-pitch opener Zero, but it's still an unmistakably rock sound for the scrappy New York trio (though Karen O now permanently resides in L.A.). [rssbreak] In other words, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs haven't changed as much as they'd like us to believe.
How do you stop everyone from saying that they love the remixes they've found on blogs more than they love the songs that you've slaved over in the studio? This is a conundrum which didn't really exist before the rise of the Hype Machine but, clearly, it's now at the forefront of some of our favourite bands' minds. Everyone from Biffy Clyro to Editors are threatening to go "a bit New Order" on their next records, whilst Patrick Wolf and These New Puritans could probably bang on for hours about Timbaland's beats. Anyway, this brings us to the return of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, perhaps the only noughties New York band who've not only managed to keep their credibility and cool but have also managed to keep on developing into the-band-of-a-generation.
Electroclash songstress Peaches once famously sang “The girls wanna be her/The boys wanna be her,” speaking perhaps of some imaginary, ultra-sheik rock goddess who defies genre and gender both. As unlikely as it sounds, that persona truly does exist, and is walking among us as Karen O. Long considered the epitome of indie divinity, Miss O has set standards for fashion, ‘tude, and pop posturing all while fronting (with great charisma, mind) the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
After excising themselves of the remaining remnants of their past lives as thrashing garage-punk provocateurs on 2007’s Is Is EP, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were at something of an artistic impasse while recording their third album. Frontwoman Karen O’s insane, Day-Glo screaming-banshee shtick had reached its logical conclusion (and maximum annoyance), and the band’s Spartan set up -- drums (courtesy of perhaps the best drummer in indie rock, Brian Chase) and guitar (courtesy of Nick Zinner) -- was long overdue for an overhaul. Yeah Yeah Yeahs responded by making It’s Blitz, a disco-inspired album that finds the band finally taking full advantage of long-time producer Dave Sitek’s ability to create atmosphere and sonic layers.
Perhaps a band can play only so many beer-drenched live shows and record so many frenetic freak-outs before its members start thinking that an album of midtempo ballads isn’t a half-bad idea. How else to explain the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ uncharacteristically chilled-out after-party of a third album? Prerelease interviews set off a rash of speculation that guitarist Nick Zinner would be putting aside his ax altogether this time around in favor of ambient synth work. Though that turns out to be a bit of an exaggeration?guitars are present somewhere in the mix on at least half of these tunes, including one vintage Yeah Yeah Yeahs basement riot (”Shame and Fortune”) — it’s certainly true that Karen O spends most of It’s Blitz! delivering her yearning yowl over gently burbling keyboard chords instead of Zinner’s trademark circular-saw riffs.
Karen O and her merry men do a little danceThe early promotional strategy for the third Yeah Yeah Yeahs album? Throw listeners a red herring. Initial singles “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll” suggest YYY 2.0, a sleek, chrome-coated dancefloor act; Nick Zinner’s mutant guitar gives way to a synth-heavy attack, while Brian Chase’s drumming scales back to a 4/4 pulse. But the rest of It’s Blitz! turns out to be a bit more complicated.
Review Summary: Synths, melodies, real depth - this is not your little brother's Yeah Yeah Yeahs. As people in their teens are wont to do, I took every opportunity presented to me in the period between 2001 and 2004 to mouth off to whoever would listen about how all the bands who were vogue at the time would have disappeared in 5 years. The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Vines, The Hives, Kings of Leon, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jet, The Libertines, The Von Bondies - all of them felled in one swoop by the contempt of a 16-year old with a big mouth who didn't yet know that 90% of bands don't last 5 years anyway.
The fact that the whole thing commences with a warbling synthesizer, is enough reason to realize that this is an electronically-infused album. But like fellow New Yorkers, TV on the Radio, what Yeah Yeah Yeahs are king/queen for is creating album after album with a completely new sound. Even their EPs have been able to take on a life of their own and are fully-formed exposés into this resolute band’s heart.
Karen O, the drag-show-flamboyant singer for the pseudo-bohemian Noo Yawk trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, might be the “indie-rock” answer to 50 Cent. In the early years of the W Decade, she emerged as a shrewd and self-aware self-promoter, smart enough to peg her ambition to an irresistibly catchy, compelling album. (Fever to Tell, Karen’s seedy, swaggering Get Rich or Die Tryin’, stands as one of the few early-aughties rock breakthroughs that’s dated well.) While she’s remained the perfect polarizing celebrity, more obnoxious than life, her stock has deflated a bit, and she’s seemed increasingly ridiculous and desperate.
When Yeah Yeah Yeahs released debut disc Fever to Tell, frontwoman Karen O was full of her age, 24. Six years later, the New York trio's third LP, It's Blitz!, is only as subversive as its cover image. Synth-pop opener "Zero" busts out the glitter, while the Donna Summer/Cher backbeat of "Heads Will Roll" spurs on Boys & Girls with kohl-rimmed eyes.