The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Heads Will Roll" (John Roman Remix)
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. By publicly billing the YYYs’ new “dance” record It’s Blitz as the much-craved antidote to “mopey, whiny indie bands,” she hasn’t done the record any favors. It’s as if the YYYs’ promotional juggernaut wants the album dismissed without a fair hearing. In the post-Vice music landscape, another “real guitar-rock record” might be the last thing anyone needs, but a coy, geek/cheerleader-complex dance-pop record would run an easy second-last.
Don’t be falsely alarmed. The first couple of songs on It’s Blitz (the ‘80s-tastic “Zero” and the overheated “Heads Will Roll”) do echo the new-new-wave shtick of Interpol and pals, and they’re among the band’s least interesting material to date. When Karen shrieks “Dance! Dance! Dance to death!” it’s easy to giggle, in light of the album’s silly, six-years-too-late conceit. But, in the details, little has changed.
The instrumental makeup has changed a bit, but the song structures remain complex and unusual, with hidden hooks and careening melodies that easily mitigate its electronic sheen. And Karen’s emotional range is broader than ever. The ballads (“Runaway,” “Little Shadow”) are particularly well-built, as haunting and painfully ambiguous as Fever to Tell’s breakthrough hit “Maps” or its unforgettable deep cut “Modern Romance.”
It’s Blitz isn’t FTT, and may not be remembered as highly (particularly by those who never give it a chance), but it is a logical progression. At the least, it justifies indulging Karen O for at least one more year.