Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz! (Polydor)
Three years in the making, It’s Blitz! has been billed as another departure for New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Upon their inception, only cretins would fail to notice that there was something else evident in the band, something more than rhythms and dances, something more adventurous and characterful that needed teasing out. While The Von Bondies, The Datsuns and The D4 proved their worth and enjoyed comparatively un-notable careers, the increasingly unconventional trio return with an album that shows their work’s culmination. If anything, there’s still room for them to expand and produce something further-reaching, but this is a fine example of a band realising that they are no longer encumbered with the trappings of the pop song, and determined to express that.
Nick Zinner, most of all, has developed into a fine musician and composer, with an ear unrivalled in the muddy world of post-punk revivalism for texture and accompaniment. Throughout It’s Blitz! he is the unwitting focus, with a blank canvas mentality that has no regard for genre – any comparisons to Kraftwerk or Eno or even Radiohead are somewhat useless, because he’s created a sufficiently identifiable milieu of his own. Consequently, because it’s the most sonically dense and inhuman of their records so far, vocalist Karen O has more to do than ever to make this a humanised performance. She is the conduit of emotional delivery, not the bleeps and sweeps behind her. Thankfully, the band’s last two albums have secured her reputation as a leading pop orator, and the likes of Zero (which, in all honesty could have been on the last Girls Aloud album) cement her further. ‘Shame And Fortune’ sees Ms. O join the likes of Yuki Chikudate and Satomi Matsuzaki in being vocalists as instruments, Berio-nuanced bringers of precise notation and quirky delivery. Her occasionally barbed lyrics remain, but this is less squealing than it is considered hysteria.
There are ponderous corners that should be acknowledged for their whimsy – the whispering guitar lines in Softshock, for example, are tiny melodic nuggets that could have sustained a far longer song. These ponderous corners often feel as if they could have been improved with expansion. Zinner’s wily guitar rumbles in Runaway signify clearer structural audacity than before, but their menace being tempered and brewed slowly would have been an epic result in terms of entertainment. Strangely, the precious humanity also comes flying back in the resolutely acoustic tom-toms in Skeletons, itself a close cousin of Maps and simultaneously a step into a bombastic future. The synthesized orchestral augmentations sit perfectly alongside the childish vocal and increasingly marching drums, and create as mature an atmosphere as we’ve heard. Similarly, the closing duo of Hysteric (a misleading title) and Little Shadow slow the pace of the album to a crawl, but end it on a resolutely forward-facing note. Plunging watery organs into the ether and climaxing on an atmosphere rather than a specific notion is a bright indicator indeed for the next album, even if it is buoyed by pure pop vocal melodies.
The perceived balancing act between self-indulgence and brevity for entertainment’s sake is one clearly acknowledged by Yeah Yeah Yeahs here, but it’s one that they never needed to consider in the first place. In Nick Zinner, they have an accomplished and improving manipulator of sounds, and in Karen O they have a tumultuous and exhausting focal point. The drummer’s fine too, obviously, and there’s no need for them to operate in the pop world any more. If lessons are learned and certain elements taken forward from It’s Blitz!, then future recordings could well attain the grandiose divinity they touch on here.