Thursday, April 2, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - 'It's Blitz'

Have Yeah Yeah Yeahs ever released a unanimously loved record? I can remember (somewhat apt) criticisms about their debut Fever to Tell being an uneven, overhyped dance-punk mess. Their 2006 follow-up, Show Your Bones, split fans and critics down the middle – It was too calculated! They were better when they were messy and uneven! I can remember discussing the album with my friend Paul (we both liked it) and how, in interviews, band members Brian Chase and Nick Zinner seemed to hate frontwoman Karen O. for making them do everything on her terms but not enough to quit the group. At the time, Paul was OK with the band splitting up and going out with a solid discography. I thought they had another record in ‘em, though, and was really pulling for a third LP.

I was fucking wrong.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs pulled another Karen-dictated sonic shift on their new full-length, It’s Blitz!. Zinner’s otherworldly guitar sound is mostly replaced with synths and Chase’s loose, booming percussion is gone in favor of drum machines. That these fellas are forced to downplay their strengths takes some adjusting. But repeat lessons don’t dull the lack of compelling songwriting. This post-punk record boasts few flashes of brilliance or intensity; it’s too often a cold, uninspired listening experience. With Zinner relegated to keyboards and Chase stuck in a limited run of disco dance beats, there’s just a tad too much minimalism employed, leaving O. to save the show. She doesn’t.

At 10 tracks, It’s Blitz! can’t afford much filler. Track two, “Off With Your Head,” squanders the good will generated by lead single “Zero,” which gets a little bit catchier each time, with it’s hedonistic redundancy. The lyrics are dumb, the beats are weak, and it doesn’t rock. There is no reason to like this song. “Runaway” rambles on, directionless and hookless. “Dragon Queen” is stereotypical disco. I get Karen’s desire to expand her musical range, but the results here are too lackluster. And the band’s attempts at even the slightest amount of aggression, like on the comparatively peppy guitar track “Dull Life,” sound uninspired and flat.

“Zero” aside, the record’s quietest moments are what stand out. I hate to draw a parallel between “Hysteric” and “Maps,” the band’s lone mega-hit, but it’s got a similar heartfelt yearning and track placement. Musically, it’s closer to “Modern Romance” but with better pop instincts. “Soft Shock” introduces the record’s airier, dreamier aspects early on. “Skeletons” preserves the vibe with some underlying percussion to give it a small dramatic quality. Pick your favorite ambient comparison – Postal Service, M83, High Places – you might like some of these songs, but make sure you preview the tracks online first.

I’ve got three scenarios for how It’s Blitz! is going to be remembered: For a select few, it’ll be Wire’s 154, a dancey post-punk secret success, even though most people will still prefer the band’s punkier debut (Pink Flag/Yeah Yeah Yeahs). For others, it’s The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds; it’s an OK record that’s frequently too formless; but hey, maybe there’s a Pornography in the future. Personally, though, I see It’s Blitz! as comparable to U2’s Pop (and maybe this year’s No Line on the Horizon) – it’s a shitty dance record.

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