Back in 2003, Yeah Yeah Yeahs burst out of seemingly nowhere. They got played a lot on alternative radio and I thought they were better than OK. But there was a feeling of gimmick to them. The silly name, the lack of bass player, the cartoony Karen O on vocals. Something just seemed a little loo calculated about it. Like the look of the band had been more thought out than the sound. More than a decade and several more albums later, and I’ve heard enough from these guys to know that they’re more than just a gimmick. Definitely more than a gimmick enough for me to have listened to their debut album a lot more than I have. Which is why I’m giving Fever to Tell another, more than deserved spin.
In my limited experience with this band, I’ve always known that it’s the vocals of Karen O that are responsible for that quintessential sound. The way she can seamlessly go from sultry vixen, to bratty pop girl, to punk rock attitude, to brassy blues broad, to countless other sounds, means every song has the possibility to go anywhere. And Fever to Tell showcases that vocal versatility right out of the gate with Rich, three and a half minutes of O showing off what she can do in a way that never seems like showing off.
Almost like the band heard me give all the praise to O for the previous song, Date With the Night is Nick Zimmer (guitar) and Brian Chase (drums) making sure I notice them too. The vocals are as eclectic as the previous song, but I definitely feel like the music came first on this one, with the vocals made to fit. Whereas Rich felt more like Karen O could have sung that a Capella, with the music being retrofit after the fact.
Then it’s time for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs neo take on dirty, dirty blues. Man sounds like it could be a response to countless Jon Spencer Blues Explosion songs. Just writing that made me think what a great double these two bands would make. But I digress. Things get a little poppy on Pin. But because this is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s poppy with a weird edge.
Their heavier, almost metal side gets let loose on No No No and it’s great to hear them somehow find even more energy and urgency. 11 tracks in under 40 minutes is a pretty good indicator that high energy and urgency are on the cards. But when a band can still find ways to up the anti as a record enters its final third, that’s something to be commended. It’s even more impressive when Maps proves that they don’t need to hide behind that energy and urgency. Because it’s slower, quieter, more tender than everything else, and still works.
I can’t think of many bands who have come out of the gate with such a fully formed, unique sound on their debut album. In 2015, there isn’t much out there that sounds anything at all like Yeah Yeahs Yeahs or Fever to Tell. I remember it coming out in 2003 and thinking it was pretty cool, but I never got right into it. Now, I officially regret that. Because as fresh as it sounds a dozen years later, it must have been really like nothing else out there back in the day.