‘I think that I’m bigger than the sound’ Karen O proclaimed on ‘Cheated Hearts,’ from 2006’s sophomore effort, Show Your Bones. Seven years later, on their fourth album, O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase give their all on making good on that statement.
It’s been 10 years since the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s blitz-krieged the early aught’s with their version of neo-punk. In the years that followed the band has now released three additional albums – all of them receiving generally glowing praise from critics and enough commercial success to pretty much play when and wherever they want.
I have a strong belief that it’s an artists duty to make the listener (or viewer) feel something through their work. This was a primary aim of the band on this release according to recent interviews. The question that evolves is not simply, ‘Were they successful?’ but rather ‘Was it worth the feeling?’ Perhaps that’s where commerce and creativity butt heads.
This album was another ‘grower,’ for me this year…which is following on the heels of two other albums recently reviewed that find the groups reviewed in similar territory in their careers. It’s with a certain consternation that I’m able to write thought out reviews because there’s been a lot of thought required to put something to paper (or electronic screen, as it were).
The band continue to jump genres, tempo’s and moods like no one’s business. From the opening soul-punk of ‘Sacrilege,’ to the introspective love song of their earlier days and NYC genesis on ‘Subway,’ to the tribal percussion that leads off the title track – the shifts at first are jarring. With repeated listens they begin to make more sense. Sometimes the mood evoked doesn’t work though. ‘Under The Earth,’ feels exactly like it’s name – bubbling, sputtering, gurgling along for four minutes with tepid, semi-interesting bass line. Far more interesting are the guitar heroics Zinner exhibits on my personal favorite, ‘Slave.’
‘These Paths,’ is an interesting, hypnotic tune and it showcases O’s abilities as a front-woman to take her rapturous vocal presentation over a bed of perhaps simplistic music and turn it into a musical sermon. ‘Area 52,’ is another nod back to the band’s beginnings but feels phoned in and stale. For a band that’s committed to moving their sound forward, they don’t need throwback tracks like this on their fourth full-length.
When I initially read that one of Kool Keith’s many alter-ego’s ‘Dr. Octagon’ was make the rarest of cameos on a Yeah Yeah Yeahs track I was almost giddy with aural excitement. ‘Blue Flowers’ remains one of my all-time favorite hip-hop tracks. Then there was talk James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) producing the track. Then I listened to the track and yawned. It’s as long as ‘Subway,’ clocking in at 5:17 and it’s a waste of time. Dr. Octagon is completely under used to the point of simply being a footnote. It’s an electronic track at heart but never really takes off the ground.
‘Always,’ tries to mine previously tread ballad territory but is limp in comparison to another ‘Maps,’ or ‘Skeletons.’ It’s musical component is a cheapened bossa-nova beat meets somewhat ethereal strings. It’s at this point where I realize what a Frankenstein’s monster of an album this really is.
By comparison, ‘Despair,’ does what ‘Always,’ doesn’t and is the exact kind of emotion-evoking track the Yeahs have carved out a niche for. It enfolds slowly over the first two minutes in almost western-movie like fashion. The chorus of ‘My sun is your sun,’ washing over a melancholy vibe like fast-moving clouds giving way to glimpse of silver-lined sunshine.
The album closes with ‘Wedding Song.’ Personally, it reminds me of a certain Springsteen b-side that landed on the Jerry Maguire Soundtrack. I’m sure it’ll end up on a soundtrack of it’s own soon enough. It’s a moving piece, even if it feels like it came from a place explored musically a dozen times before.
In closing, and perhaps in fairness, I usually find only about half of each YYY album ‘add-able’ to my iPod – but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate and review each album as a whole. Some habits, despite technology, continue to die hard. This is definitely an album from a band searching for the ‘sound.’ Sometimes soaring, sometimes flopping. I applaud their efforts and their growth. I loved Fever to Tell almost from front to back, Show Your Bones was a fairly by-the-numbers follow-up, It’s Blitz was a lot of fun, and this one was exploratory. All that being said…