Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been anticipating It’s Blitz! for quite a long time — so long, in fact, that it leaked and spread all over the Internet before Interscope could do anything about it. It’s been three years since the release of YYYs’ sophomore album, Show Your Bones, and a full six since their mind-blowing premiere, Fever To Tell. Even the release of 2007’s Is Is EP was a sparse blip on the radar, leaving fans rabid for new material.
Fortunately, Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase have come well-prepared to answer the call of the public with a sound and style that mixes new and old without alienating even the most hardcore fans.
It’s Blitz!, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ third full-length, starts out promising a much-anticipated return to the powerful noise that won instant enthusiasm when Karen O and company came on the scene in 2000. While decidedly not identical to their raw, aggressive original sound, the new album erupts from your speakers with an energetic dance beat augmented by Karen O channeling Justine Frischmann of Elastica. The dancing continues past the first track into the second. At this point, you might begin to convince yourself that It’s Blitz! wouldn’t be a bad album if it was poppy club anthems and workout jams start to finish. But Yeah Yeah Yeahs are neither that predictable nor that complacent.
After the frenetic beginning of “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll,” the album almost seems like it restarts. The remainder of the tracks on It’s Blitz! sound much more cohesive when separated from the first two. The vast majority of the lyrics are simplistic and accessible, but are also executed with precision and thoughtfulness. “Hysteric” echoes the refrain: “Flow sweetly, hang heavy… you suddenly complete me.” In anyone else’s hands, these words might seem cloying or over-precious. But Ms. O’s voice denotes a simple authenticity that requires no fancy wording or eloquent poetry. Similarly, the gentle crooning of “Pardon, shadow, hold on tight to your darkened key” in “Little Shadow” is mildly reminiscent of 1950’s pop love songs with its sweet and humble phrasing. Like much of the poetry on It’s Blitz!, the words maintain a refreshing feel even in their lack of boldness.
The combination of more complex instrumentation and decreased instrumental emphasis spectacularly highlights Karen O’s always-impressive set of pipes. And on It’s Blitz!, O is living further away from her Fever To Tell squall than ever. Where once there was raw, guttural expression there is now a controlled, developed croon that plays nicely with the music in the background and her uncomplicated lyrics. “Zero” features none of the searing guitar and creative drumming of past YYYs feature tracks. Instead, you find yourself bopping your head to a driving beat that could easily come from a machine and vague synth-y strings. If this were to be your first experience with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, you might not even digest the fact that this group functions spectacularly as a threesome, rather than a vehicle for Karen O’s voice.
Fever To Tell opened with Zinner asserting his sonic presence before we’re even introduced to the rest of the cast. It’s Blitz! opens with noise that could frankly be just about anyone. It’s clear that despite the widespread inclusion of synthesizers mimicking strings, horns and even what appears to be a marimba in “Softshock”, the days of bold-faced soloing and guitar lyricism are over.
This change illustrates the next phase in the band’s gradual transition from the frenetic to the even-keeled. Even if you’re a staunch member of the camp that reveres Yeah Yeah Yeahs for their spastic energy, you can’t help but appreciate their dedication to making their newer sound function well within the scope of their career.
The primary difference between It’s Blitz! and the rest of the offerings in Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ catalog is group dynamic. In earlier works, the stage appeared to be equally shared among three instruments: Karen O’s voice, Nick Zinner’s sharp guitar and the expressive beats of Brian Chase. Listening to the newer, more mature sound set forth on It’s Blitz!, it becomes clear that the big instruments have been relegated to just that: instruments. They serve as backing rhythm and vague melody so the spotlight can shine brightly on Ms. O’s self-restrained, almost delicate voice. Gone are the days of high-pitched screeching layered over aggressive accompaniment. Yeah Yeah Yeahs have settled into a theme of controlled dynamic and intentionality
It’s Blitz! reminds us that even at their most energetic and outrageous, Yeah Yeah Yeahs will not be able to compete with their former selves. But that’s alright — they have no interest in recapturing the unbridled insanity that drove their early success. They know they don’t have to be manic to be exceptional. (Interscope, 2009)
By Katie Koivisto