When I think about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs I get the same kind of ambivalent feelings that you might have towards a cheating yet endlessly alluring ex-lover. I kind of feel betrayed and warm inside at the same time. Maybe I should explain a bit.
I had the incredible good fortune to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform in 2002 in a tiny club in London. I think it might even have been their first gig in London. Little did I suspect I was about to witness one of the best gigs I had seen in too many years. The drummer, Brian Chase, had a serious and studious look that was at the same time slightly ridiculous, kind of like a Ghostbuster. Meanwhile the guitarist, Nick Zinner, was skeletally thin, pale and entirely wrapped in black, with a vertical shock of black back-combed hair straight from the Eighties. I sipped my pint and watched the pair set up their instruments. Suddenly the atmosphere changed entirely, becoming instantly charged with rock n roll excitement. Singer Karen O had just taken to the stage. Dressed in intriguing tatters and carrying several beer bottles in one hand like maracas, Karen yelped, squealed and threw herself around the tiny stage, hypnotising the audience all at once. She had the rare gift of making you feel like the gig was all for you, directed at you personally, while at the same time not even appearing to take it that seriously. It was like a brilliant joke that you were in on. The music was somewhere between the best bits of The Cramps, The Pixies, The Stooges, and The Birthday Party. I was really excited by all this, and for a while the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were my new favourite band, and I duly went to see them several more times.
Not long after that, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP appeared. (Actually untitled, the EP tends to be referred to as the Master EP, after the word on the necklace around Karen O’s neck on the sleeve.) This blistering 5-track EP was and is one of my favourite recordings of the Noughties, crackling as it does with the kind of energy that a listener might expect from a live radio session. I absolutely urge you to go and find yourself a copy of this recording, even if you don’t bother with anything else on this blog. It’s worth a fiver of anyone’s money. Bang is perhaps the best song, sounding as it does like P J Harvey in her classic Dry and Rid Of Me days, but all are perfect. And if anyone reading this has a copy on vinyl, I’ll buy it off you. (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Yet by the first album, Fever To Tell (2003), the apparently mighty Yeah Yeah Yeahs sounded to my ears to be faltering already. Somehow the songs which had sounded so amazing live didn’t seem to work quite so well as recordings. Something was definitely missing, although the song Maps rightly gained the band a lot of attention from the media. Hmm, I thought. Oh well, I’m sure it will all work itself out for the next album.
Three years would elapse before the band’s second album, Show Your Bones. I can honestly say that I have never been so disappointed by an album. I expected so much, and what I got was a bunch of half-baked, samey, watery and unconvincing old tosh, most of which sounded like several different bands. There was not a single song I liked. Slowly, painfully, the truth became clear to me – whatever the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had, they had just lost it completely.
In the half-decade since then, one further EP and a third album have emerged, the latter even including (of all the jarringly inappropriate things) some electronic dance elements.
So that’s the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The first EP is great, the first album is OK, the rest of it is just crap (regardless of what NME might try to tell you).
Yet still I love them...!