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Yeah Yeah Yeahs - 'Show Your Bones' Album Review

Karen O and co. learn some new tricks on impressive second album…

Published on April 5th 2006.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - 'Show Your Bones' Album Review

Karen O and co. learn some new tricks on impressive second album…

The year is 2001. The music world is monopolised by bland, monotonous, irrefutably ‘safe’ music. Whilst America is split between listening to ‘N Sync or parent-approved Linkin Park, Britain had the choice of Travis or Dido. Where is the danger? the excitement? the unpredictability? The world needed something. That something turned out to be the destruction of the World Trade Centre. The event sent shockwaves throughout the world, re-igniting a feeling of anger, guilt, confusion, a sense that everything isn’t ok.

The shock of 9/11 re-awoke a sense of mortality and reactivity, refuelled the sapping cultural collective; writers, filmmakers, artists and musicians; from the ashes of the Twin Towers came a vibrant, anarchic, sexually charged ‘new-wave’ spearheaded by The Strokes, Interpol, Stellastarr* and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Whereas each band concerned themselves more with hairstyles and clothing rather than being overtly topical, their sense of causticity and rebellion from the ‘secure’ spoke volumes as to the feelings of everyone.

Indeed, their sense of self-propelling vanity came always with an sense of irony: ‘The world is a mess, and we’re angry, young and beautiful’. It was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs particularly who took this ethos as their own, with Karen O becoming the most fashionable, most exciting, most coolest thing, like… ever, launching a thousand fashions and doppelgangers in the process.

Show Your Bones squashes the 'pout over product' accusations.

More than their style, it was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs music that made them goliaths; the raw yet melodic guitar, the vivacious drumming and Karen O’s vocals and lyrics oscillating between incensed screaming and a touching softness; at times they were almost punk. Almost, as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are innovators, not followers, and their debut album Fever To Tell received both huge sales and critical acclaim from across the board. However, with the hype comes the backlash...

We rejoin the Yeah Yeah Yeahs here. Fellow New Yorkers The Strokes suffered horribly from the hype; their first album being considered a work of genius, their second being considered a work of crap. It wasn’t true of course, if we listen without prejudice, both albums are equally fine. Poor Strokes.

Worryingly, it seemed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were feeling that second album strain, reportedly scrapping oodles of songs and taking three years to produce anything. Some cynics went as far as to label the YYYs a matter of pout over product.

Luckily, Yeah Yeah Yeahs much anticipated sophomore effort Show Your Bones is an entire success. If a strain was felt, it certainly isn’t evident on the album, as it resonates with an effortless and affecting cool; an importantly, it shows a development in their sound that will allow them to continue onwards and upwards from here-on-out.

Show Your Bones first single Gold Lion provided evidence of a sound shift. Where Date with the Night (lead single from Fever To Tell) was all buzz-saw guitars, yelping and epileptic drumming; Gold Lion is a growler (sorry, grower), a mid-tempo stomper, forcing people to recognise a departure; this was, of course, intentional: ‘See how we’ve grown!’.

This ‘departure’, to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs credit, is a minor one. For those in love with Nick Zinner’s simple yet mind-splitting melodies, you won’t be disappointed, the sound is still buoyant and abrasive but now there’s extra layers to enjoy...

Where some unfairly suggested the YYYs sound is spoiled by one-dimensionality (despite much evidence of their diverse songwriting prowess) there’s Fancy’s and Phenomena et al’s spooky sense of claustrophobia and ghost-like middle-eights; the YYYs aren’t afraid to tinker with their patented sound, and it works out well for everyone.

Karen O’s libretto always play second-fiddle to the YYYs general gusto; most lyrics offer nothing but impenetrable nonsense, but there are moments of insight into her world, such as Cheated Heart’s: ‘Cheated by the opposite of love… kept my eye on the first one.’ The pry amongst us may wish to correlate the lyric to one of Ms O’s celebrity relationships, but it’s really none of our business, it’s simply a declaration of her versatility, from sex-siren and rock-goddess to hopelessly befuddled love puppy.

What put the Yeah Yeah Yeahs above their peers was their ability to provoke an assortment of emotion through a simple guitar, drums, vocal set up, leaving pretension and falseness at the door in favour of magnificent, honest and raw songs. To this they’ve stayed true, and now they’ve found some extra magic to pull out of their dapper hats. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have leaped the tricky second album hurdle and come down better on the other side, suggesting there may even be better to come.

Stephen Fairbanks
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