Let’s begin back in 2001, when an underground punk rock trio named the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released a series of impressive EPs. Sidestepping much of the New New Wave sounds emerging from that area during that time, the YYY produced a beguiling mixture of metal, blues and straight up pop rock that could whisper as well as squeal.
Guitarist Nick Zinner ground out distorted riffs at buzz saw volumes and with great precision. Drummer Brian Chase pounded out beats like the love child of Janet Weiss and Dave Grohl. Karen O fronted the whole affair; a gal with Chrissie Hyndes’ voice, Jerry Lee Lewis’ onstage energy, and a drug-addicted baton twirler’s fashion sense. The band recorded their debut LP with an inexperienced producer and a limited budget and the result, 2003’s Fever to Tell, was an instant success; a messy collection of songs sure to inspire short attention spans and disco pyromania. Fever to Tell was a beautiful, balanced pop album that hinted at the new, mature directions that the band might be heading.
Flash forward and suddenly it’s 2006. Instead of a follow-up masterpiece to Fever, we get the mixed success sophomore LP Show Your Bones.
The second disc starts off with single “Gold Lion”, a fine, stripped down number that manages to put a little modest swagger into its minimalist melody. However, the departure from Fever to Tell is evident from the first track on; Karen O has toned down the vocal acrobatics, Chase keeps it simple on the drums, and Zinner seems to have switched his guitar from kill!-kill!-kill! to stun mode. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have played against all their strengths and made, essentially, a folk album. To the band’s credit, most of the songs are melodically well crafted and finely executed — an effort to dig beneath Fever’s glossy, effervescent surface. However, Karen O’s songwriting can be a blunt tool for such excavation and, by abandoning their former slam-bang dynamics, a fairly boring task as well.
Things only get worse with “Phenomenon”, which is structured like an anthem but with all the energy sapped from it. Instead of thundering drums and veering guitars, the group keeps this track a blank palette for Karen to chant, “Don\’t fall asleep with the motor on/ She\’ll make you sweat in the water.” “Mysteries”, lacking both melody and direction, suffers a similar fate as it lumbers around for a few minutes before expiring.
And then, right when you suspect that the last of the YYY fanboys have ripped their Karen O posters from their walls, comes “Turn Into.” Backed with a simple acoustic guitar strum, the song builds into a grand and guileless epic of unrequited love. By mixing in a little distorted guitar and a short piano interlude, “Turn Into” realizes what YYY tried to do with Show Your Bones and again hints at big things to come. This time, let’s hope that they follow through on the follow-up.