Old School Reviews: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones

23 07 2007

by mr. travis

yeah yeah yeahs - show your bones

Going into their second full length album with the knowledge that the garage rock card had been played out on their previous releases, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs open their second full length, Show Your Bones, not with the bravado that characterized their former albums, but with a slow drum beat and an acoustic guitar, a far cry from the screeching feminist manifesto of “Rich.” In fact, album opener (and first single) “Gold Lion” is far different than anything from Fever to Tell, except maybe the logical extension to the brilliant “Maps,” the gold star on their full-length debut.

By 2006, the “back to the garage” movement had faded into a sort of new wave revival (led by such bands as the Killers), separating, as most music fads do, the good from the bad. This is not to disparage any of the bands within the movement that aren’t “big time,” for there are three different types of bands: the ones that wish to stay underground, yet are somehow pushed into the mainstream eye; the ones who try to be big time and fail miserably after one hit single; and the bands that start underground, somehow make it to the big time and continue to push their indie sensibilities into the mainstream. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs built on the hype machine of their own underground success and subsequent major label release to move beyond the movement that gave them a start. And they do so by continuing what they started with “Maps.”

The initial reaction to Show Your Bones is a feeling of being under whelmed. No longer is the band trying to bash you over the head with a mix of thrash and anger disguised as art, they keep things simple and clean, the results causing a shock to the listener. It’s almost as if Fever to Tell was the night of the big party, with Show Your Bones being the morning after, filled with regret for the actions of the previous evening, leading to quiet introspection.

But, that doesn’t mean Show Your Bones isn’t as good as its predecessors. In fact, it may just be the best of the bunch, for as all great albums do, it reveals its secrets with each successive listen. Karen O. continues to prove herself a strong frontwoman, announcing her arrival into the ranks of Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde (of the Pretenders), the instrumentalists of the band, drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nicholas Zinner proving their worth as they stretch and pull their sound to the breaking point, yet continuing to push said point further and further away, a hard thing to do with only two instruments in the band.

There are issues with the album, the first four songs seem to be haphazardly pulled together, their sequencing a bit off, culminating in the bizarre cover (but not really a cover) of LL Cool J’s “Phenomenon” (cleverly called “Phenomena”). But, with the great “Honeybear” the band hits a string of great songs that rank among the band’s best work, a solid stretch that details the heartbreak of a failed relationship (“Cheated Hearts”), the realization that relationship mistakes come in two’s in the rockabilly stomp of “Mysteries” to the finale, the hopeful “Turn Into” in which Karen O. bemoans the mistakes of the past, but looks forward with hope. There was word that during the recording of Fever to Tell, O fell in love; It’s obvious that with Show Your Bones, that love has turned sour. It’s not quite a concept album, but the theme of heartbreak is too prevalent not to be a factor in determining the mindset of the band.

Soul searching in music has become a dirty word, with the dastardly emo taking the stage in confessional lyricism that borders on embarrassing, making everyone in the game ashamed of pouring their soul into their lyrics. But, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs manage to be introspective without being clichéd or cloying; yet still adding a layer of mystery to the proceedings. With this release, it becomes clear that the band has found its footing, continuing to push the boundaries of its sound, which the band should be proud of in an industry which tries too hard to make everything monotone. This was a make or break record for the band, and they made it with flying colors, something many of their contemporaries failed to do.

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