Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Shifty, 2001; Touch & Go, 2002)
Machine EP (Touch and Go, 2002)
Fever to Tell (Interscope, 2003)
Show Your Bones (Interscope, 2006)
Is Is EP (Interscope, 2007)
It's Blitz! (Interscope, 2009)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs crawled out of filthy little New York clubs at the turn of the millennium with a divinely irreverent name and a scene-stealing frontwoman who transformed their jagged art punk into frenetic rock & roll theater. The trio's lo-fi first EP sounds like it was recorded in a tenement bathroom and provides the perfect backdrop for Karen O's arsenal of onstage antics (gargling microphones, spitting beer, grinning madly). Yeah Yeah Yeahs opens with the serrated shuffle of "Bang," featuring the triple punch of Karen O's desperate panting, guitarist Nick Zinner's raw riffing and the sweetly caustic zinger "As a fuck, son, you suck." The five-song set ranges from the throat-shredding blare of "Art Star" (the chorus consists of Karen O sticking the mike down her throat and approximating bloody murder) to the alt-rockabilly of "Mystery Girl" to the misfit love anthem "Our Time," an early indicator of the group's skill with heart-stopping ballads.
Fever to Tell, the band's first full-length and major-label debut, maintains the gritty urgency of their first EPs while growing their sound from a garage-y firebomb into a glitter-punk assault. "Date With the Night" is a seductive bit of deconstructed disco that rides drummer Brian Chase's slapped hi-hat, and Zinner's menacingly buzzing guitar drives the dancey "Y Control." The album mainly consists of live-wire guitar rock like the sexy kiss-off "Black Tongue," jittery "Pin," with Karen O dropping shrieked "uh-huh"s and "bomp bomp"s amid the dangerous riffs. But the record reached the masses thanks to ballad "Maps," where Zinner channels the Edge with echoey, single-note plucks, Chase lays down a syncopated swing and Karen bares her heart to a lover on the road: "Wait, they don't love you like I love you."
Three years later, Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought in coproducer Sam Spiegel, a.k.a. Squeak E. Clean, for Show Your Bones, a more refined album that welcomes increasingly textured sounds and shifting tempos. Lyrically, the band betrays its growing pains: First single "Gold Lion" is a spiky acoustic march named after the advertising award Spiegel and Karen O won for an Adidas ad, and the singer muscles "Cheated Hearts" into a defiant demonstration of unbridled ego ("Sometimes I think that I'm bigger than the sound"). Rather than bare their teeth at the top of tracks, Yeah Yeah Yeahs prefer a slow-burning approach on Show Your Bones: On "The Sweets," lethargically strummed chords give way to a Pixies-like buildup that explodes into its crunchy final verse; "Warrior" begins with folky tambourine before Zinner's power chords yank it to its conclusion. Despite the album's taste for melodic songs built around acoustic guitars ("Way Out," "Turn Into"), a handful of tracks recall Fever to Tell's gutter-sludge riffing, especially the bratty, bouncy "Honey Bear" and pounding "Phenomena."
Before the release of their third disc, Yeah Yeah Yeahs turned out an EP of stellar tracks penned during tours for Fever to Tell. Is Is is short but searing, packing its 17 minutes with banshee bellows ("Rockers to Swallow"), grimy riffs ("Down Boy"), sweaty sexuality ("Kiss Kiss"), eerie drones ("Isis") and see-saw guitars ("10 x 10").
The stripped-back Is Is proved to be a glance in the rearview mirror, however: It's Blitz! delivers the trio's most ambitious sonic palate yet and provides their first bona fide dance-floor stunner, "Zero," which finds Karen O holding her own against pulsing synths and roiling guitar lines. Yeah Yeah Yeahs keep up the nouveau-disco on second single "Heads Will Roll," but the rest of the album stubbornly refuses to stick to any single aesthetic. "Dull Life" is a spunky foot-stomper, "Soft Shock" explores jumpy synth-pop and "Dragon Queen" conjures a TV on the Radio-worthy sideways groove. The band also tucks in a trio of unconventional ballads —"Skeletons," "Runaway" and "Hysteric"— on which a vulnerable Karen O. illustrates what it really means to show your bones.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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