March 25, 2009
It is usually difficult for a band to toe the line between commercial success and underground integrity, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have made it look pretty easy for some time now. The little art-rock band that could has more than established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in recent years, with two critically acclaimed albums and a slew of successful EPs. On It’s Blitz!, the group’s third full-length release, we see a band that continues to deliver, and has matured substantially in the process.
Most people will walk into It’s Blitz! expecting another garage-punk tour de force, and as a result most people will be sorely disappointed. This is definitely a record that requires a few listens before an honest judgment can be placed upon it. The differences between It’s Blitz! and previous Yeah Yeah Yeahs records are stark and abundant, but it is not exactly fair to expect a band to continue to put out the same album, especially a band as talented and unpredictable as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The record begins with two pure dance tracks in “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll”. Initially it is hard to come to grips with the blatant dance-pop direction that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs exhibit here, but this is not exactly thoughtless indie club music. At the core of these synthesizer heavy tracks are well-constructed pop gems. In “Heads Will Roll”, lead singer Karen O delivers the line “Off with your head, dance ‘til you’re dead” with a defined confidence and urgency that is often lacking in similar dance songs of this stature.
Karen O and company follow their foray into the underground dance world with the hypnotically beautiful “Soft Shock”, a dreamy little number that features some impressive reverse guitar work from guitarist Nick Zinner. “Soft Shock” is followed by the mandatory slow love song, “Skeletons”, which finds Karen O at her most vulnerable. In many ways “Skeletons” resembles the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s previous hit single “Maps” from their first full-length Fever To Tell, but this time around the band trades the grungy guitars for a lush soundscape of synths and strings.
Those who fell in love with the old Yeah Yeah Yeahs will find great comfort in the ripping anthem that is “Dull Life”. Here the band balances out the dance tracks and slow songs with what is potentially the most aggressive song they’ve ever recorded. Zinner takes the foreground here, reassuring everyone that no amount of synths can replace the angular perfection of his guitar playing.
Perhaps more shocking than the addition of the opening dance tracks is the fact that It’s Blitz! boasts a staggering amount of slow pretty songs. The record closes with “Hysteric” and “Little Shadow”, two tracks that showcase Karen O’s hauntingly delicate voice. Known for her theatric stage presence and scratchy yelp, Karen O sheds that reputation here, instead delivering her lines with a soft, sweet confidence that establishes her as a very capable singer. In “Hysteric” we hear the lines “Flow sweetly, hang heavy, you suddenly complete me” in the chorus, which may be the most sincere thing that Karen O has ever sang.
“Little Shadow” closes out the record in appropriate fashion with slow, pulsing drums backing Karen O as she beckons “to the night, will you follow me?” — and she is incredibly hard to resist. With It’s Blitz! the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have delivered a focused, emotionally charged record that is as diverse as it is precise. Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase have introduced an abundance of heart and integrity into an otherwise lifeless and fashionable genre—rarely has electronic music been so moving.