Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

Album three from the NYC trio...
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This third album finds Yeah Yeah Yeahs at a crossroads.

The Brooklyn trio’s debut album, ‘Fever To Tell’, made an impact on the music scene akin to the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs. Rarely, if ever, had female sexuality and innermost emotions been broadcast with such explicit detail, and with such style and panache. Taking three years to produce a follow up, sophomore collection ‘Show Your Bones’ felt almost anti-climactic on its release in 2006, yet it has withstood well the test of time and trends.

Working to their own pace, the group are an oddity in a high-velocity industry. Taking another three years to carve out ‘It’s Blitz!’ the band are faced with a problem: they clearly can’t retread former glories, yet any major change in direction would demolish much of what they had worked for. These inner tensions seem to drive the album’s sonic ambition, with the trio seemingly eager to take their place in the pantheon of stadium artists – without sacrificing any of their trademark raunchiness.

Opening with ‘Zero’, the band is clearly in no mood to pull their punches. Beneath a wash of crystal-clear synths, Nick Zinner’s guitar clatters against the technology, a chaotic mixture of disco and rock. Using a dominatrix persona, vocalist Karen O seems in the mood for revenge, with the lyrics hinting at hidden violence. Her voice seems numbed, unable to experience emotion unless it’s in the form of pain. Filled to the brim with dark sexuality, it leads the way for what is undoubtedly some of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ darkest material to date.

An immediate contrast, ‘Heads Will Roll’ also promises a form of submission – but to the beat. Karen O describes the loss found in a nightclub, when the music rolls and the dancefloor becomes a unified whole. Filled with epic grandeur, and some martial drumming from Brian Chase, it sounds like Bono if he ever said something worth listening to.

‘It’s Blitz!’ reaches its darkest point with ‘Skeletons’. Karen O has frequently flirted with oriental imagery, and the track is bathed with Far Eastern tonality. It would be trite to link the lyrics to a haiku, however. Rather, the simple rhymes evolve a lullaby, with all the danger that suggests. Think about it: in ‘Rock-A-Bye Baby’ and the cradle coming crashing down, from a tree of all places! Purring softly into the microphone, Karen O intones an ode to death with the lines: “love left dry, frost or flame, skeleton me”.

Notoriously, the album leaked online forcing the group to bring the digital release date forward. Fans left scratching their heads by the disco influences on display were no doubt appeased when their modem delivered them ‘Dull Life’. Opening with some jagged guitar from Zinner, it explodes into a stomping anthem, as the group show The Ting Tings how to (de)construct a pop song. Yet strangely, within the context of such daring material, the track feels hollow – a concession to the group they were, rather than an exposition of the band they are rapidly becoming.

That’s not to say that Yeah Yeah Yeahs are past the stage of producing some straightforward rockers – ‘Shame And Fortune’ has Karen O out-purring Iggy Pop. However, even on this track the band experiment, producing some startling keyboards that at times remind the listener of – gasp! – Depeche Mode.

Although Karen O’s demented onstage persona attracts the bulk of the fan attention, musically YYYs are dominated by ‘the other two’. Zinner and Chase construct a stunning musical portrait for ‘Runaway’. Country and western given a hipster overhaul, the guitars are laced with tremolo. Almost falling apart in the middle eight with a dense, claustrophobic atmosphere, ‘Runaway’ suddenly explodes with some careering slide work.

‘It’s Blitz!’ seems to find the group ill at ease with their past. Weighed down by expectation, Karen O documents troubled love affairs, longing for some resolution to her life. ‘Hysteric’ is most explicit example of this, with the singer crooning she is “no longer what you ask”. In the original meaning of the word, only women can be hysterical – ‘hyster’ is Greek for womb – giving new light to Karen O’s cry of “complete me”. Playing with her words until they dissolve into syllables, the song ends with gentle whistling, that leaves the listener feeling rather uneasy.

Album finale ‘Little Shadow’ abandons the clattering guitar of old. Using the same beauty in darkness formula The Velvet Underground delivered on ‘After Hours’, the song is deceptively simplistic. The song chooses to act as a finale not by bringing together musical elements present in the album but by inventing new ones. Massive in scope and ambition, ‘Little Shadow’ shows that while the group’s past may be behind them, it remains all the same. With shards of feedback shooting forward from the speakers, the track simply boils away and the album clicks off. Opening with a classical flavour, ‘Little Shadow’ feels almost anti-climactic before Zinner introduces some truly electric guitar work.

‘It’s Blitz!’ ultimately answers all the questions facing the band. The album proves that they can provide epic music with personal themes, that YYYs can expand without losing what made us fall for them in the first place. Rather than being different, they have simply delivered an album that it bigger. With new influences and some widescreen moments, ‘It’s Blitz!’ is the sound of an act refreshed, rejuvenated and raring to go.

Bang, bang, bang – the bigger, the better.

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