Yeah Yeah Yeahs Embrace Their Destiny
ARTIST: Yeah Yeah YeahsTITLE: It’s Blitz!RELEASE DATE: April 14, 2009WEB DEBUT: Feb. 23, 2009
ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: If your first sight of Karen O was her pouring beer all over her hipster-trash outfit in a frantic, sweaty Brownie’s, you might have been surprised when the band’s first album was released and the sweet, melodic, vulnerable “Maps” became a legitimate hit. To a certain degree, this clearly took the Yeah Yeah Yeahs by surprise, too; their follow-up, Show Your Bones, was a good album, but seemed to lack a consistent sound, largely shying away from the noisy punk songs of the debut to reach toward “Maps,” but never quite getting there. (Though, you know, can’t fuck with “Cheated Hearts.”) Having been conceived at least in part as a jokey lark (without drummer Brian Chase, Karen O and Nick Zinner were known as “Unitard”), and consisting of only two instruments, they clearly needed to make something of a breakthrough if they were going to continue as a viable entity.
And now, they have. When Spin says that Nick Zinner is ditching his guitar for synths, this is both kind of untrue and more true than it seems. There’s still a lot of guitar on It’s Blitz, and it’s not necessarily true that all the synth sounds were produced by keyboards. But it is indicative of the record’s direction, which takes them closer to the club and to modern nightlife than they’ve been before. In retrospect, it seems kind of obvious to turn to Blondie when you’re trying to turn your female-fronted punky band into something more expansive, but it wasn’t at the time, and the band makes the inspiration work for them wonderfully. On first blush, none of the ballads quite match up to “Maps” (though “Skeletons” certainly makes a play for it), but the feeling of bittersweet, wistful yearning that lies at that song’s heart informs almost all the numbers here, and the disco-tinged numbers benefit mightily from it. (This seems to be part of a welcome trend; the initial stages of the disco revival seemed to want to meld disco’s energy to a certain aggression, but more recent incarnations seem to have recaptured the romanticism that made the genre human and mature.) Ultimately, the album seems to be trying to serve as some sort of capstone project for the decade, bringing in garage rock, ’80s revivalism, disco, and quiet urbanism.
THE BEST TRACK: Like Franz Ferdinand’s recent album, It’s Blitz! is sort of paced like a night out, so your view of the “best” track depends whether you prefer the more energetic first half or the more mellow second. “Soft Shock” perfectly captures the feeling of running around a city at night, but it’s hard not to be drawn toward the nearly perfect “Hysteric” near the end of the album, which maybe, possibly, does do “Maps” again, but instead of the frustrated, anxious worry of that earlier song, it brings in something closer to rapture, floating a love song in impossibly warm textures.