It’s Blitz (2009)
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The third album from any promising artist or group is more often than not the most critical and decisive release of a career. After wowing audiences with the debut and then taking things up a notch with the sophomore release, the general rule of thumb for the third outing is either follow suit or stir things up, the latter being the risky gamble that can break or make careers. Radiohead planted its seeds of musical relevance with its third release Ok Computer, Springsteen on Born to Run, PJ Harvey with To Bring You My Love and now the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with its latest release.
It’s Blitz! (Interscope Records, 2009) may come as a bit of a shock to some fans expecting yet another record propelled by Karen O’s fiery shrieks and falsettos. When looking at The Yeah Yeah Yeahs natural progression since it’s monstrous debut, Fever to Tell, the band’s third album fits nicely in its budding catalogue.
The aforementioned shock would undoubtedly arise after listening to It’s Blitz!’s opening two tracks, “Zero” and “Heads will Roll,” which are both terribly catchy dance-pop numbers. With Nick Zinner’s distortion soaked guitar riffs replaced with synthesizers and Karen O’s signature highly sexual screeches and moans toned down to a more refined (albeit welcomed) take on conventional pop vocals, the early moments on It’s Blitz! are bizarre enough to warrant a double check that this is, in fact, the same Yeah Yeah Yeahs that once wrote I gotta’ man who makes me wanna’ kill.
Whereas the opening tracks would feel right at home at the club or late night in the car when nobody can see you jamming out, a number of the following songs feel like extensions (or shall we say improvements) on the band’s surprise 2003 hit, “Maps.”
“Skeletons,” one of the most strikingly beautiful songs Karen O has ever SUNG–lyrics tend to be The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Achilles heel. Beginning with a dreamlike synth loop, the song crescendos to a massive soundscape finale, which ceaselessly segues into “Dull Life,” the first song on the disc even remotely reminiscent to the group’s art punk past.
The record’s pinnacle exercise, “Runaway,” starts off as a hauntingly stripped down piano ballad showcasing O’s more delicate vocal range but eventually morphs into a powerful free-for-all of frantic string arrangements and thunderous drumming from Brian Chase (another venture away from the drummer’s conventional kit minimalism).
“Hysteric” very well may be the album’s “Maps,” a love song with lyrics like, Flow sweetly hang heavy / You suddenly complete me. An equally effective bonus acoustic version of the song hints at what alternate live versions of these new songs may sound like.
It should come as no surprise that with this record the band called upon rising producer and member of TV on the Radio Dave Sitek for input. Radio’s third record, the masterful Return to Cookie Mountain, also secured the band’s status as one of the few current bands that matters. Sitek has a penchant for deconstructing all prior notions of what dance music should be.
It should also be noted that past Yeahs songs have led up to It’s Blitz! whether of not it was intentional. The closing trio on Fever to Tell–“Maps,” “Y Control” and “Modern Romance”–were fairly significant departure from the album’s prior tracks, possibly hinting at what was to come.
For The Yeah Yeah Yeahs it might have been easy for the trio to just continue the formula that lumped them with a budding minimalist post punk genre consisting primarily of The Strokes and The White Stripes. Unlike its contemporaries The Strokes, which tried to stir things up with its third (and also most pop-friendly) album First Impressions of Earth but was overly ambitious for its own good, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have broken free from what’s expected of them and are on a path to sparking listener curiosity for future records.
Short, loud alt-punk vignettes propelled Fever to Tell, while 2006’s Show Your Bones was less aggressive, opening up the floor for some more alt-experimentation. With It’s Blitz! the band has made its dance record, and done so without a hitch. Let’s just hope the band keeps evolving come record number four.