New York band Yeah Yeah Yeahs have now been absent for long enough that they could call this comeback a reformation, fire out the old favourites one more time and be met with great gratitude. The trio’s last album, Mosquito, came out over nine years ago, more than enough time for long-term fans’ hearts to grow fonder.
The scuzzy garage rock explosion of the early 2000s, led by this band, the Strokes and the White Stripes, is cool again now that a documentary is being made of Lizzy Goodman’s book about the period, Meet Me in the Bathroom, and “indie sleaze” has become an aesthetic beloved of the TikTok generation. Meanwhile Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2003 song Maps has become an enduring alternative classic, interpolated by Beyoncé on Lemonade and named by NME as the perfect first dance indie wedding song.
Since Mosquito, as well as parenthood and the pandemic, drummer Brian Chase has been making experimental drone music, Nick Zinner has been playing guitar with Phoebe Bridgers and Liam Gallagher, while charismatic frontwoman Karen O has made two solo albums. The first, Crush Songs in 2014, was so brief and lo-fi it barely qualified as a demo, but Lux Prima, a magical collaboration with superproducer Danger Mouse in 2019, had a rich, retro, orchestral sound that is drawn on to an extent here too. The band have credited Sixties soul favourite Beggin’ by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons as the inspiration for their new single Burning, which powers along on a similarly propulsive piano line and urgent strings.
This time, though Karen O’s feline yowl is still instantly recognisable, Zinner’s mighty guitar work is barely heard, with synthesizers dominating the eight songs. They create something funky and danceable on Fleez, but more often they’re piled up to create drama and density. There’s also an underlying tension generated by multiple references to environmental catastrophe. The opener, Spitting Off the Edge of the World, produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek and featuring the quivering guest vocals of Perfume Genius, sounds majestic, an immense influx of sound sending the chorus skywards.
In her forties, the singer’s once unhinged delivery is more restrained, a development that suits slow-burning songs such as Blacktop. They make no attempt to be the band they were, but the sound they have found instead leaves no doubt they’re a must-hear act once more.