When I first saw Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform on "The Late Show with David Letterman" in 2004, I—along with probably a billion other men and women watching the program—fell in love with Karen O.
The more I saw of her, the more I fell in love. The chick is all over the place when she performs live and is charming as hell in interviews. But then I actually heard the band's album, Fever to Tell, and my fate was sealed. Karen O was like a stranger, artsier, sexier, smaller Debbie Harry. Oh, and batshit crazy, too.
But listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s latest, Show Your Bones, gives me the feeling that someone slipped Karen O a sedative. I can’t tell if they’re going on the success of Fever to Tell’s ballad “Maps” or if the band's new producer, the ominously named Squeak E. Clean, is exerting his influence a bit more than he should. The Yeahs are a bit more polished in this one, yeah, and maybe their songwriting has improved, but the fun visceral power of Fever and its previous EPs only appears sporadically in Show Your Bones. Gone are O’s hoots and hollers and moans and groans that made her a force to be reckoned with in Fever.
I didn’t even begin to tap my feet until track five, “Honeybear.” Track five! That should be considered criminal for a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. After “Honeybear,” the album finally gets playful. “Cheated Hearts” finally lets Karen O loose a little. But when she boasts, “I think I’m bigger than the sound,” it's really hard to believe her. That song moves into “Dudley,” in which the band retools the lullaby “Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word” into a sweet post-breakup song you can’t help but smile too. And the album almost saves itself from decency with the powerful “Mysteries,” which is by far the best song on the album.
After that, though, the album goes back to forgettable territory. It probably has one of the best middles of any album I’ve heard in a while. But it’s those four songs that save Show Your Bones from flat mediocrity.
I've made all the comparisons to Fever to Tell with great anxiety, because, like most people, I don’t like it when bands repeat themselves. But I also don’t like to see exciting bands become too streamlined and maudlin. There’s an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” aspect of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs of two years ago. And if the Yeah Yeah Yeahs continue the trajectory that Show Your Bones suggests, the band might find itself in the middle of the road.