It’s impossible to discuss Yeah Yeah Yeahs without looking back at their other releases, their new directions, their troubles and tribulations.
Debut album Fever To Tell glistened with the sweat of pure punk ferociousness. They announced themselves in the most ballsy and brazen way possible, with an album that was almost as full as anarchy as themselves as a band. They created a whole new scene in New York, capturing the same essence of effortless cool as The Strokes but with more than a few dashes of madness and danger stirred in as well.
Their second album saw the band grow up seemingly overnight. Instead of sheer raucousness they chose song-craft and a larger all-round sound. It was the sound of a band who, after the chaos that Fever symbolised, found themselves enveloped in a comedown which was inevitably reflected in their music. Critics at the time claimed the band had grown up too quickly, and that they had lost their signature stripped back sound, but in reality it was an album that proved they were more than just the Gods of the NY party scene. They showed, for the first time, their vulnerability.
The highly experimental It’s Blitz! followed up next and took most people completely by surprise. There were rumours prior to the album’s release that Zinner had ditched his guitar altogether in order to create a more electronic sound, and although the album has its roots in the NY disco scene, it wasn’t quite that extreme. The ultimate grower of an album, it caused outrage on first listen but very quickly becoming many people’s album of 2009.
And here we are now, in 2013, and after what seems like an absolute lifetime we have another YYY record to sink our teeth into. Titled Mosquito, there was plenty of surprise when the vulgar-for-the-sake-of-it artwork was revealed, featuring a mosquito attacking a screaming baby. It foreshadowed the disjointedness of the album that was to come.
Karen seemed in confident mood prior to the album’s release: “We would love for this music to make our fans feeeeel something, for it to stir some shit up inside of them, whatever that may be,” she’s said. “So much feeling went into this record, it was the rope ladder thrown down into the ditch for us to climb up and dust ourselves off. I hope others can climb up it too; we’re excited to share the good vibes.”
YYY albums always have very strong opening tracks, ‘Rich’, ‘Gold Lion’ and ‘Zero’ all symbolise the sonic direction of each album, and so it wasn’t unreasonable to think that Mosquito’s ‘Sacrilege’ would be the same. It grooves with a confident swagger before a completely unexpected gospel kicks in to take the song to unprecedented levels in terms of scale and atmosphere. Not a bad way to start, but unfortunately it gives the album lofty peak from which it has nowhere other than downwards to fall from.
‘Subway’ is a genuinely interesting and unique composition, featuring the percussional churn of a train on the tracks. It’s stark, desolate and dark, conjuring up images of a disused station in the city that the band once supplied so much electricity to.
‘Mosquito’ feels like it should have been a Fever b-side, but not much more. The fact that the rather mediocre song is at the centre of the artistic statement that the band are attempting for this album is confusing to say the least, after all it’s the title track and the influence behind the horrid artwork.
‘Under The Earth’ is, as the title suggests, a claustrophobic affair, whilst ‘Slaves’’ twisting Zinner riff laps around the lament-filled vocals. The trip-hop of ‘These Paths’ is testament to how the band are never afraid to experiment, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as the new direction that was heard on It’s Blitz!.
The grungey Area 52 is silly, but not even in a funny way. It’s like a Nirvana track that was rightly discarded on first listen and possibly the lowest point of the band’s back-catalogue. ‘Buried Alive’, produced by James Murphy and featuring a rap (yes a rap!) from Dr. Octagon should provide a much-needed pick-me-up but again it wallows in the solemnness that is prevalent throughout the record.
With the middle part of the album out of the way, Mosquito’s mood then seems to sprinkle back into life. The tropically beautiful ‘Always’ sets a perfect backdrop for a day of lazing underneath the sun. The anthemic ‘Despair’ is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album, with pulsating Zinner riff lying low to allow Karen O’s vocals to shine. It might not be an obvious standout track, but it’s by far one of the most poignant. The album ends with ‘Wedding Song’, which is basically a happy ending to the tear-jerking ‘Maps’. Karen sang it to her husband on her wedding day and unsurprisingly the beautiful lyrics are given centre stage.
Altogether it’s a confusing, disjointed effort from a band who are so often bang on the mark. The high points of the album are unmistakably very high but there are simply too many songs that don’t add anything of any note to the album, and in fact hinder it by disrupting the flow. Fever’s transition into the more mature Show Your Bones seemed like a natural occurrence, before exploding once again with It’s Blitz! The three albums fitted nicely in with each other, creating a sense of story, direction and emotion. It was the band growing up and then realising there was still so much fun to have. Moquito seems distant from the other three albums, not really knowing where to stand or how to express itself.