It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The year was 2001, and in the folly of my not-quite-adulthood, I smugly thought of myself as the epitome of counter-culture as I listened to my new favorite bands, the Strokes and the White Stripes. That is, of course, until my equally misguided friend brought over an EP his cousin from New York was raving about. In the fifteen minutes that followed, my young suburbanite sensibilities were torn to shreds by the raw vocals of a brash, overtly sexual frontwoman. It was the first of several musical discoveries that brought the pretentious little world I had constructed crashing down upon me.
That EP was, of course, the eponymous debut of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band that would soon become one of the most hyped bands on the planet in the lead up to its debut full-length, Fever to Tell. When that album was released in 2003, it didn’t quite live up to expectations (and really, how could it?). Karen O’s shrill vocals and in-your-face sexuality might have put the band on the map, but the music world was divided on the merit of these qualities. Now, three years later, the band attempts to unite instead of divide with Show Your Bones.
Right out the gate with “Gold Lion,” the band shows that the playbook’s been through some tweaking. Yes, that’s an acoustic guitar you hear, but that’s not the real story. What’s most noteworthy is that even when the song does inevitably boil over, it maintains a melodic quality that’s absent from even the most accessible moments of Fever to Tell. The band isn’t any less loud; it’s just less abrasive. It’s a truth that holds for much of the album.
Much of the talk will be centered on Karen O’s transformation, which for the most part makes a lot of sense. Her banshee wail only makes the occasional appearance for emphasis now, and she spends significantly less time figuratively rubbing her crotch in your face. She seems to have learned the valuable lesson that sometimes less is more, and it could go a long way toward changing people’s minds about the band. Still, the accomplishments of guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase shouldn’t be overlooked. The one thing people could agree on with the previous album was their talent as musicians, and to their credit they’ve reached new levels of complexity and sophistication this time out. The band manages to weave seemingly dissonant ideas together to form a coherent whole, most notably on tracks such as “Way Out” and “The Sweets.”
It should be interesting to see how the album fares with the mainstream public. Show Your Bones is much more accessible than its predecessor, but there isn’t really a “Maps” to serve as a gateway. This could leave the band in the awkward predicament of having beaten the sophomore slump but with fewer sales to show for it. The MTV2 crowd will ultimately decide how this one plays out. It’s a frightening thought, I know.
“Gold Lion” video