Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Show Your Bones
utside, inside / This is a moon without a tide.” I don’t know what that means. I also don’t know if the “Gold Lion” of the leadoff single’s title is some sly reference to drugs, Spike Jonze, or simply a failed attempt at landing a track on the Narnia soundtrack. But I don’t necessarily care either. Sometimes Karen O thinks that she’s bigger than the sound, and she’s right. There isn’t a more compelling front-person in rock today, and unlike most preternaturally charismatic onstage performers, O’s myriad charms translate nicely to record.
The band’s sophomore full-length finds a tighter reined and, at times, downright plaintive Karen O. This isn’t altogether surprising. After all, “Maps,” the song that single-handedly saved the group from major-label flopdom and (let’s be honest) the real reason a large number of indie kids can admit to liking Kelly Clarkson, was a ballad. But it’s worth noting, at any rate, that strong, rougher-edged numbers like “Down Boy” and “Rockers to Swallow” (both of which featured on the band’s Lance Bangs-helmed DVD) failed to make the cut here. More to the point, the few tracks on Show Your Bones that sound like they might have fit on Fever to Tell clearly constitute the new album’s weaker links.
In fact, the only real rawk song here that doesn’t sound more-or-less left-over, “Cheated Hearts” (which appeared on Tell Me What Rockers to Swallow’s Fillmore set), is also the new album’s sole stand-alone classic. It’s an unabashed anthem—with all three members of the group firing on all cylinders—about being “bigger than the sound,” which I suppose could mean any number of things. First, a query; then a taunt, a rallying cry, a challenge—to rock and roll, the world, and probably most of all, herself.
Perhaps most indicative of YYYs v. 2.0 is a song not on the album, “Hello Tomorrow,” the seeming curiosity that O recorded for her boyfriend’s Adidas commercial. A friend pointed out to me that “Dudley,” one of the new record’s highlights, sounds like a nursery rhyme—and she’s right. It’s not what O’s saying, natch, but how she’s saying it. Like, when she draws “by” (as in “you’ll pass me by”) out into three nearly distinct syllables. A couple verses later, she informs: “My dear, you’ve been used / I’m breaking the news”—no longer the nihilistic man-eater in the designer tacky outfits, she’s resigned here to being that ex-girlfriend you hate that you still kind of love.
“The Sweets” plays like a fleshed-out extension of the intelligent-shoe mini-song. Not just determinedly down-tempo, but legitimately sad—it’s the precise sound of some vague, strange emotional stasis. Even as Nick Zinner and Brian Chase try to nudge O out of her funk, rocking out a bit near the end of the song, it’s tough to shake the feeling that this is their Maturity Record. “Secret blue, purple, pink, and green right over it / Hold on ‘cause the coldest hasn’t thawed yet” is pretty oblique, granted, but it’s also a far cry from “boy, you’re just a stupid bitch and girl, you’re just a no-good dick.” On the album closer, “Turn Into,” O offers her most human-scaled admission to date: “I know / What I know / On the car ride down / I hear it my head real low.” A bit cryptic still, but I know what she knows, too, or what she means anyway. Love’s harder to process than sex, and in its way, O’s gear-shift is as poignant as PJ Harvey’s on Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.