With their debut Fever to Tell, it was the fully formed, fully unique sound of such a young band that impressed me most with Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The downside of such a unique sound is that any follow up in the same vein could sound like a repeat. When there’s nothing else to compare it to but their own work, it gets a little easier to accuse a band of being one trick ponies. But, that is 100% objective. Because while millions of fans all over the world love The Strokes, I’ve always thought they have basically just made the same mediocre song over and over and over again. On the other hand, I love every single song Primus has ever made, while others could easily accuse them of repetitiveness and redundancy.
All of that is to say, I‘ve heard Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ sophomore record once or twice over the years and liked it. But I’d never listened closely enough to have a good idea of how it holds up against their debut. So this time around, I listened to How Your Bones as a standalone album, but also as part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs discography.
Immediately, Gold Lion and Way Out show a band confident enough to reign things in a little. Not that Fever to Tell was all shock and awe, but these two songs definitely hold back on the surface level attack, while lacking none of the impact. There are even hints of an acoustic guitar in there. I don’t think I heard a single one on the previous album.
On Fancy, things get a little scary and haunting. Like the opening titles to a horror movie, complete with a guitar sound that could almost be mistaken for a spooky Theremin. A third of the way in, and Show Your Bones has yet to indulge in some patented screams, or punk rock angst , or bratty pop with edge vocals from Karen O. While a song like Phenomena might have the volume of that Fever to Tell sound, it’s slower tempo is a good example of Show Your Bones in general.
Honeybear is Yeah Yeah Yeahs showing off a swagger and groove that was never really there before. It’s a hip swinging rhythm in one way, a spaghetti western groove in another. All the while incorporating a sound that is undeniably this band, and this band only.
Songs like Dudley and Mysteries show that the band definitely grew confidence to rely less on layers of instrumentation and padding. Stripped back isn’t really a word that applies to these songs, but they definitely seem more inclined to trust a song to survive on more of its basic elements. The core melodies and bare bones instruments get a little more time to shine, without the mountains of layered instruments that populate do much of Fever to Tell.
As Show Your Bones winds to an end, those comments seem to be a pretty accurate view of the album as a whole. Warrior keeps that western vibe, while Turn Into is acoustic and clean guitars, over lo-fi drums. For a band who was so fully formed out of the gate, this a pretty close to perfect follow up. That’s not to say it’s a perfect album, but as far as follow ups go, it’s just the right level of sticking with that Yeah Yeah Yeahs did best, while finding new ways to expand and explore their sound.