It's astonishingly hot today, and I'm trying to decide if walking a mile in this heat to pick up the debut long player by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell (Interscope), was worth it.
The band is an NYC punk trio with Brian Chase (drums), Karen O. (vox) and Nick Zimmer (guitars) as human components. More precisely, they are garage rock revivalists (in the mold of the Strokes and the White Stripes, which should satisfy any questions concerning the band's quick ascension to a major label), with a vicious love for No Wave-inspired noise.
Like the minimalist gods whose influences they so brazenly wear on their sleeves, the band traffics in less-is-more but does surprisingly more than would be expected from what is essentially a two-instrument palette (witness the spooky six-string signature of the lead cut, "Rich"). Unfortunately, the colors all start looking the same pretty damn quick. "Date with the Night," "Man" and "Tick" offer little save some gratuitous crash-boom-snarl and Karen O's growling, pleading, screeching vocal posturing (a semi-successful amalgam of Iggy, Styrene, Hynde and Harvey), which is too tame to be threatening and too grating to be labeled an easy listen. On "Black Tongue," her faint attempt at gender blending ("Boy you're just a stupid bitch / and girl you're just a no-good dick"), fails in every way to provoke. Lyrically and thematically, Fever to Tell teeters on the edge of the precipice of easy-to-dismiss, leaving no real lasting impression other than the lingering desire to hit the track advance button.
And hit that button you must to get to the album's real payoff, the handful of songs at the end that make everything previously endured nearly worthwhile. The boost begins with "No No No's" dynamic switchbacks that ultimately segue into a hypnotic dub. With "Maps," all of Karen O's bravado comes crashing down into a twinkling though salty salute to regret. "Y Control" is another ace, representing a perfect synthesis of the group's inherent strengths: primitive yet inventive guitar constructions, Karen O's sympathetic voice and the honest, direct lyricism found in the line, "I wish I could buy back the woman you stole".
Don't believe the hype surrounding it. Fever to Tell isn't really saying anything particularly new or interesting. But I guess it was worth the walk.
Publication date: 07/24/03