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Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell

Sometimes it just takes the right setting for music to kick in.
I bought the major label debut of New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs two months ago, but no matter how many times I played it in those early weeks, I couldn’t connect to its sound: too Siouxsie & the Creatures for me, perhaps (another cult fave whose appeal has long eluded me).

But on a whim, I grabbed the disc for a long highway drive recently – was feeling grumpy and I kept driving into blurry downpours – and from the first cut of Fever to Tell (Interscope), I thought: dang, but this fun! All of a sudden, the group’s darkish sound made sense. Many of the disc’s songs, I decided, sounded like something Iggy Pop might’ve written circa New Values: jaded, in-love-with-my-own-alienation uptempo rock that’s not as smart as it thinks it is but still has its moments. Singer Karen O has a range of voices that recalls new wave chanteuses like the aforementioned Siouxsie and Nina Hagen – though she’s also capable on a cut like “Map” of purring as provocatively as Chrissie Hynde.

The band’s songs mix flirty bragging with self-loathing misanthropy, sometimes within the same stanza, while the minimalist we’re-playing-late-at-night-in-the-studio instrumentation (drums by Brian Chase, guitars by Nick Zinner) sounds richer than you’d expect. May not hold up for the length of a full compact disc (when they start doing dub outros by track 8, that’s when I start wondering if they’ve run out of things to tell me), but it almost makes it.
Occasionally, Miz O’s vocal affectations can be a bit much (when she shriekingly imitates a ticking timebomb on “Tick,” for instance). But more often her perfectly pissed-off rock yowl is snuggly suited to lines like “I’ve got a man who makes me wanna kill” or “Boy, you’re just a stupid bitch, and, girl, you’re a great big dick!” Sure made sense to me riding through a thunderstorm, anyway.

I’m betting that this disc plays all over college radio: first single “Date with the Night” especially makes a great intro to the band, thanx to Chase’s gleefully frenetic drumming and Zinner’s rolling guitar lines. If I were still a disaffected liberal arts major, I’d sure wanna play Fever to Tell at a party – late, when you’re down to cheap beer and everyone else is too drunk to get up and change the disc. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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