Sunday, 31 May 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! (2009)

When I first saw a picture of Karen O, spoon-faced singer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I entertained unsavoury thoughts such as I reckon she knows how to service herself with an empty beer bottle. I couldn’t help it, she just had that look about her. I then had the pleasure of listening to the band’s debut album, Fever to Tell, and found that the songs were about things like, well, servicing yourself with empty beer bottles and non-committal oral sex. Not that that was a bad thing, mind. Instead Ms. O’s manic, often hysterical vocal style aligned itself perfectly with the scuzzy, grimy New York sound produced by two geeks who looked like they still lived with their mothers, creating a revelatory vacuum of noise.

Then something peculiar happened: Karen O suddenly found an otherwise unrealised maturity and started singing about ethereal subject matter as the band ‘grew up’ on their second long-player Show Your Bones. Maturity – the moustachioed bastard antagonist of Rock. But wait, it didn’t matter because the songs were still as stylish as before but they were just a smidgen more evenly produced. Gone were the chainsaw guitars and walls-came-tumblin’-down drums, replaced instead by vast expanses of synthesizers and ‘Big’ drums creating monstrous, unoccupied canyons into which you could jump gleefully.

I’m now told it is 2009 and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ride into town once more on their spangly horses, brandishing ten new songs on their new album It’s Blitz!

If you haven’t heard album opener Zero by now then I’m afraid you are a Philistine at best. What an opener though! Exploding with a euphoria designed purely for sweaty dancefloor encounters, the song can easily count itself amongst the tracks of the year already. Following this dizzying tirade, Heads Will Roll entices the listener in with its vacuous synths before the guitars pound along with muscular abandon keeping the party mood afloat.

The band have always insisted that they can pull at the heart strings with the best of them but all of a sudden, three songs in, they throw a couple of maudlin bad boys on the listener. Not that they’re bad songs: Softshock is a beautifully intoxicating number, continually gaining frenzied passion and makes a convincing case of being the album’s highlight, whilst Skeletons mines the dewy-eyed tenderness of Maps to great effect.

Then it all gets a little muddy as the band seems to run out of ideas, relying upon predictable riffs on Dull Life and the safety net of the quaint ballad. That’s not to say that it’s a clear-cut, black and white album of two halves. There are still magical moments to be had: Shame and Fortune has the menace of one hundred schoolgirls brandishing kitchen knives, whilst Runaway harnesses icy feelings of loneliness with expertise. Dragon Queen gets all funky and sounds like CSS (remember them?) but, for fuck’s sake, there it is again. That voice. Whilst Karen O has one of the most distinctive female voices in modern rock, don’t you just wish she belted out a few numbers from time to time like her protégé Beth Ditto? (Although I’m informed Karen doesn’t have the range, darling).

The album parts with the ears in unremarkable fashion: Hysteric is a sunny pop song whilst closing number Little Shadow delves into the irritating ‘Look-How-Fucking-Quaint-And- Smug-We-Can-Be’ hamper one last time.

So, is the album a glorious success or a failure ne’er to be mentioned upon these shores again? Well, it’s neither really. It seldom sounds as visceral as they once were, nor does it appear to break any new ground: ultimately it sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs making a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. It seems to wrap itself up nice and tightly in a purgatorial fur coat and just feels damn good about itself, which is a shame because for an album that starts with truly unbelievable promise it ends up not putting up much of a fight. Why do people have to grow up?