Do they rock? Yeah. Do they roll? Yeah. Are they contagious? Yeah!
This coming from the band that you were just waiting to see crash, burn, and eventually show up on the soundtrack for “American Pie 12.” It’s okay—you weren’t alone. The hype surrounding the Noo Yawk trio must have turned the Vines tomato-red with jealousy; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had a bidding war, the undiluted adoration of college radio, and a singer who poured beer on herself while screaming out double-take bedroom couplets. But the more the “hip” magazines gushed, the more the assembling backlash pulsated in anticipation. The Yeahs did not seem built to last.
The joke was on you, me, and everyone but them. Fever To Tell is a party, a hangover, a raunchy limerick, a punk rock sonnet. The album is split in the night and day, between feeling no limitations and knowing the bright lights are closing in. Much like any East Village night, the first half goes by far too fast—forget “Pirates of the Caribbean,” this is the most fun you’ll have all summer. (Or had in spring, if you caught its April release.) The formula doesn’t stray far from their debut EP: ribbons of shrieks and whimpers for Karen O., frenetic bar chords for Nick Zinner, and bass-and-cymbals drum heaven for Brian Chase. No one likes the nightlife like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; the first seven tracks capture the enthusiasm of getting thrills and having plain fun in a way no current jaded, shaggy boy band dares to. Karen also expertly captures the libidos of ironic t-shirt-wearing boys everywhere with promises to “sex you” and lurid recollections of taking boys “standing up”… and that’s the tamer stuff. Hearing a cd of this shimmering energy and youth is better than Oil of Olay—it won’t make you look sixteen, but you’ll feel it.
The second half does an about-face. It exposes the depth purposely bypassed in the first songs; it’s Karen showing you her morning after, the kind of lovelorn despair that qualifies as the real ninth circle of hell. And she knows you’ve been there. She begs you not to go, that the open road is an empty volley from her arms. Her punk trills give way to more melodic belting, and such a drastic change in direction is a fairly easy pill to swallow because the musicianship doesn’t lose intensity and Karen’s vocals retain their unadorned simplicity. She and the boys carry a raucous album into one that explores the vacant grandeur of romance and leaves everyone concerned pining for it nonetheless.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ simple truth is their beauty. The contradiction of the light and dark in their art is what makes it compelling beyond the afterparty. No other album this year will make you want to dance as much or sigh as deeply—or be as glad you did both.