Yeah Yeah Yeahs
(Touch & Go)
Music writers frequently substitute the term "rawk" for "rock" to differentiate the heaving behemoth of the music at its most physically assertive from the umbrella term for the genre and overall culture -- to separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls, as it were. In the case of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though, I tend to think of the neologism as a combination of "rock" and "awkward." There's an innate gawkiness about both guitarist Nick Zinner's spiky riffs and Karen O's shaky vocals, and that's both the most appealing thing about them and the most suspect.
What's appealing is also what's immediate. Yeah Yeah Yeahs is formally punk: five songs in 14 minutes, rama-lama guitar/drums, yelped vox, "gimme, gimme, I wanna do stuff" lyrics. But unlike neo-garage bands like the Strokes or the Hives, there's little chewy center to their rock candy. A bootlegger can mount Christina Aguilera's vocals atop the Strokes' backing melody because they're every bit as pop as she is. Try that with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and they'd throw Aguilera off and break her collarbone.
Which means that we'll be spared the spectacle of Karen O collaborating with Desmond Child on theme songs for Spider-Man sequels; wish I could predict the same for Julian Casablancas. But when she squeals, "What I need tonight's the real thing/I need the real thing tonight/Yeah, yeah, yeah" on "Bang," are we supposed to burst into applause at her self-conscious primitivism? Or should we merely suspect she'll be going back to art school soon enough -- that she doesn't have nearly as much invested in this as she says she does? Maybe I'm just being an overintellectual churl. Maybe Karen O really does just want to rawk. Incontestably, for these five songs and 14 minutes, she does. But I wouldn't be surprised if she never does it again, nor would I feel all that betrayed.