Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz!(Interscope Records) Buy it from Insound
Electroclash songstress Peaches once famously sang “The girls wanna be her/The boys wanna be her,” speaking perhaps of some imaginary, ultra-sheik rock goddess who defies genre and gender both. As unlikely as it sounds, that persona truly does exist, and is walking among us as Karen O. Long considered the epitome of indie divinity, Miss O has set standards for fashion, ‘tude, and pop posturing all while fronting (with great charisma, mind) the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In fact, since their splashy 2003 debut Fever To Tell, O and the band have accumulated so much mystique that they’re practically immune to the wagging tongues and uncontrollable spittle of modern music critics.
But is that still the case today? With diva conqueror at the helm (and to the paranoid consternation of YYY fans everywhere), the New York City trio purportedly aimed for reinvention on It’s Blitz!, their third full-length release. Yet despite a circling neon hum, the long-rumored identity pivot on It’s Blitz! turns out to be a bit of an overstatement. This is still the bristling, irreverent rock we’ve all come to adore – Karen O and her beaus have simply given it a new coat of paint. And while the whole faux-New Wave/post-punk approach may seem banal now at decade’s end, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have brought enough ingenuity to the party to merit a listen.
It helps that O is her usual Sisyphus-like self, continually electrifying refrains with an ungodly amount of rock charisma. There’s undoubtedly a lesson here about the value of magnetic frontmen (er, women) and the ability to make brilliance out of otherwise mundane fare. That’s not to say that It’s Blitz! would be an exercise in mediocrity without her, but it certainly wouldn’t pulse with the kind of torrid voltage she provides at the microphone.
O’s sandy croon is all the difference in tracks like Zero – a hyperventilating, stop-start guitar piece straight out of TV On The Radio’s playbook – and the synth cool of Heads Will Roll, where she alternates between tense maven and ice queen. Even in the cinematic glow that is Skeletons (which often seems on the verge of a bagpipe solo), O’s pained and hollowed-out vocals add a whole new layer of complexity.
Still, for all its allure, It’s Blitz! has the usual peaks and valleys. Tracks like the slithering, slinking Soft Shock are the reason why so many bow at the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ altar; ditto the club-hopping shimmy of Dragon Queen. Yet for each triumphant leap there is also a misstep, and offerings such as the raucous-but-overdone Dull Life and the winding, directionless Shame and Fortune are both pieces that would have seemed commonplace when YYY was still in its Maps era. As such, the album falls back on predictable habits in its latter half, with only the haunting mutations of Runaway to break up the sonic monotony.
It’s Blitz! may matter less as individual work than as an integral piece in Karen O’s (and by extension, the YYY’s) still-growing legend. Like Debbie Harry’s Blondie and Kim Gordon’s Sonic Youth before them, O and her cohort have managed to define a legitimate niche without resorting to gender-dependant rock gimmicks. It is precisely due to the band’s finesse that It’s Blitz! is so refreshing, despite being an old sound wrapped in glitter veneer.8 March, 2009 - 10:27 — Kevin Liedel