Monday, June 08, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘It’s Blitz!’

You certainly can’t call the Yeah Yeah Yeahs boring.

With their latest album, “It’s Blitz!”, the New York trio has moved about as far away as imaginable from its trash-punk 2003 debut, “Fever to Tell.” The band already began exploring a more diverse sonic palate in 2006 with its outstanding sophomore effort, “Show Your Bones.” But where that album expanded and refined the YYYs’ sound, “It’s Blitz!” seems to blow it up.

On the surface, anyway.

The album’s two best—and most shocking—tracks are right out front: the slamming back-to-back gut-punches of “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll.” Fueled by club-mix beats only hinted at on "Bones," these tracks evoke 1980s dance/pop with Karen O playing a Madonna with lethal intent. At first I was disappointed guitarist Nick Zinner, one of my favorite leads in all of rock, seemed to be pushed to the background. But he’s there, just in different capacity. His spacey fingerprints are all over these tracks.

As the album progresses, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs gradually bring us back down to earth while still maintaining the dance-y vibe of the early tracks. The fourth song, “Skeletons,” is an epic slow-burner featuring a devastating drum cadence from Brian Chase that sounds like it was recorded in a cavern.

Karen O plays it cool on these first four songs to great effect, luxuriating in her calmer, smoother, silkier side best heard on the band’s breakthrough smash, “Maps.” She and her band are back to their old selves soon, however, as “Dull Life” and “Shame and Fortune” pillage and plunder like something off their 2007 EP “Is Is.”

Even at just 10 tracks, “It’s Blitz!” manages to make room for a number of dramatic shifts. Ballad “Runaway” starts with just Karen O whispering plaintively over a solo piano before adding violin and synthesizers in a swirling storm of sound a little reminiscent of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight.” “Dragon Queen” then reaches back to the Talking Heads before making way for another ’80s-tweaked pop gem in “Hysteric.”

My only complaint about “It’s Blitz!” is pacing. It's a bit frontloaded, and for a relatively brief album, there are a few too many ballads; individually there’s not a song I don’t like, but the final four slow the back half down a little too much. Perhaps splitting up “Dull Life” and “Shame and Fortune” rather than have them anchoring the middle of the record would have helped. Still, this only a minor gripe.

“It’s Blitz!” may not be my favorite Yeah Yeah Yeahs effort, but it’s grown on me—quickly—once I got over the soft shock of its dance moves. The record clearly demonstrates their willingness to keep pushing their sound in whatever way they see fit, while maintaining the fiery core that makes them one of my favorite bands of this decade.

Grade: A-

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