Mosquito - Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Modular)
If I was Karen O, I’d worry about my Australian label publicist. An e-mail went around with a YouTube link to the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ single in a media release which basically told you there was a new album coming out and - most bizzarely - if you wanted to review it, you could listen to it streaming on national youth network Triple J's website.
While many press releases are deliberately drenched in catch phrases and buzz words designed specifically for cut and pasting, this was bare-boned. One potential reviewer denied access to a copy memorably reviewed the album based on that press release alone. However, for some mysterious reason, I was deemed suitable reviewer material and was told I would be sent a copy when stock came in. (Surely, they couldn’t have seen the Vivid review!) I waited. I waited some more. Finally, a copy arrived with an address that seemed to have been arrived at via numerology. If it were not for my local notoriety, this review may never have happened.
You could almost suspect that someone didn’t want this reviewed. The video for the “Sacrilege” single was so overblown that it was hard to get a grip on the song. (Bowie did the same thing with “Where are we Now?’ on his new album). I had the sense immediately that this is a dud everyone is trying to pretend isn’t happening. As I listen to the album, I understand why people might think that.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs arose from New York in the wake of the Strokes and the White Stripes. They were the vanguard of the new punk rock with a clear line of influence arrowed back past the Talking Heads and Television and all the way back to the Velvet Underground. They combined art with power. Their major weapon was Karen O, a beer spitting vixen with an extraordinary gift. She sang with the fierceness of a generous heart. “Fever to Tell” and the “Master” EP are essential artefacts. But that was four albums ago.
It is not as if the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been treading water or reliving past glories. “Show Your Bones” was more of the same but with an eye for the mainstream. “It’s Blitz” took a sideway turn towards Blondie influenced disco. “Mosquito” turns itself towards art school. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does not make for an album you will take to your heart. “Sacrilege” relieved of the baggage of its video is an excellent opener. Title track “Mosquito” has a certain bite too. “Area 52 is gloriously silly pop punk. “Subway” uses the sound of a train moving over tracks as percussion and it’s kind of interesting. But there you get the picture. That one dread word; interesting. And there are quite a few interesting tracks here. It took a while to like this album but I persisted because I have a lot of respect for this band. Karen O could take a bruised heart and whisper words of faith and comfort but this disc initially seems cold with only a few loud shouts to help you notice it is there. It isn’t like it is a bad album. It isn’t like it doesn’t have an internal logic or unity but it isn’t really a band album as such. It sounds written in studio and built from the drum track up. It may have gospel choirs, a guest rapper, more than a few quasi religious references and the odd dance beat but it does lack soul. When they did “Maps” on the first album, the tears seemed genuine. This album has the kind of glacial shimmer that feels like it should have come with a complimentary packet of cocaine. Now there is a promotional idea.
This is not the place to start your Yeah Yeah Yeahs collection. But album closers “Despair” and “Wedding Song” bring the package to a suitable, if bleak, conclusion in the style of Bowie’s” Low”. Not a party record. Not a driving record. But I imagine there are moments in life it would be appropriate.