Karen O is one excitable girl. She’s the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the guitar-drums-gal band whose debut full-length album, Fever to Tell, proves that the New York rock renaissance runs deeper and wilder than the Strokes. Show O a hottie, or just set her up with the tensile riffs that Nick Zinner on guitar and Brian Chase on drums sock out in unison, and she’ll whoop and shriek and wail and pant in paroxysms of true-believer rock & roll. As she sings in “Black Tongue”: “Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, ahhhh haaah!” Then she sings it again.
On two previous EPs, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have already been through their self-conscious, obvious-influences phase and their arty-misstep phase. Now they just rock out, stripping New Wave and metal and rockabilly down to primal thrust and blare. There are half a dozen songs under three minutes on Fever to Tell, and they sound absolutely complete.
It’s not roots rock. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are closer to Siouxsie and the Banshees (but with a grin) and Led Zeppelin (but with estrogen) than to the blues, though they won’t pass up a good lick wherever they find it. Zinner places his guitar parts like a knife thrower, hurling single notes that leave wide-open spaces. Then he plunges through the middle with power chords. All the while, O moans and struts, having a fine time with old rock poses but using them to reach for something true.
Desire and fury, irritation and loneliness course through the songs. “I got a man who makes me wanna kill,” O half-brags in “Man.” But she’s not all bravado. By the end of the album, with the slow Velvet Underground drone of “Modern Romance,” her sass deepens into something more bruised and wistful, as love escapes her once again. She steps out of the party-girl cartoon to show she has a heart.