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Album Review

For Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it's a stretch

The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs - Karen O, Brian Chase (left), and Nick Zinner - now offer ''It's Blitz!'' online and release it March 31. The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs - Karen O, Brian Chase (left), and Nick Zinner - now offer ''It's Blitz!'' online and release it March 31. (JOSH WILDMAN)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / March 16, 2009
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The name of the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album boasts this year's most misleading bit of punctuation. "It's Blitz!" is surely the least exclamatory of the New York trio's three full-length albums, more a baptism in chilly 1980s New Wave revisionism than a taut rock record.

Not that there's anything wrong with a sea change. Quite the opposite. It's always refreshing to hear a young band pursue disparate styles. In the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' case, they now seem oblivious to - or maybe freed of? - the jagged guitar rock of their visceral self-titled EP that first made them indie darlings in 2001.

The bigger problem with "It's Blitz!," which is out now digitally and gets a physical release on March 31, is that the songs aren't especially compelling. The playing might hold some of the blame. Brian Chase still cuts through the din with his brawny drumming, but guitarist Nick Zinner has mostly laid down his ax to man the synthesizers, and it's hard not to imagine what he could have done with these songs.

Likewise, singer Karen O, usually such an indomitable force, has toned down the histrionics for a more measured and mannered style - and usually it suits her like a spiked leather glove. Except on "Zero," the leadoff track that's astonishing for its blandness. Even when a heavy layer of synths seeps into the mix midway in, the song feels stagnant, still taxiing for takeoff.

When the band wholeheartedly taps into introspection, the results are more ponderous than profound. "Skeletons" simmers with a tentative rhythm vaguely reminiscent of the band's biggest hit, "Maps," but then meanders until it flows into a wide-open chorus with an oddly Celtic flavor.

As with every Yeah Yeah Yeahs album, this one has distinctive and memorable moments, usually when it's cranked up. A herky-jerky edge cuts through the rocker "Dull Life," pumping some much-needed oomph into the proceedings after dragging early on.

And if this is indeed a dance record, just a few songs hit their mark. Dense and knee-deep in guitar fuzz, "Heads Will Roll" finds the sweet spot between the band's newfound predilection for electronics and its signature squall. "Dragon Queen" is a fascinating and intoxicating dip into the warm waters of disco-funk, with the delicious dance-floor come-on: "My mouth/ Is touching/ Your mouth," Karen O sings with a slinky, clipped cadence.

After 10 songs, the digital version "It's Blitz!" is padded out with four acoustic renditions of songs on the album. But even with an acoustic guitar at the forefront and Karen O harmonizing with string sections and pianos, the songs - and, crucially, the melodies - still don't convey much.

If only that exclamation point had been put to good use.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

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