It's been three years since the album ''Fever to Tell" turned the art-rock trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs into media darlings. Known for its noisy garage-punk and outrageous frontwoman Karen O, the band saw the CD get nominated for a Grammy and top critics' lists for album of the year. The unstoppable hit ''Maps" became a rock-radio staple, and the group's performance at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards -- with an elaborate set and shower of rose petals -- was unforgettable.
But too much buzz and too much time can spell doom for a follow-up. In the years between ''Fever" and the band's new album, ''Show Your Bones," out today, Karen O supplied vocals to a track for an Adidas commercial, dated and split from director Spike Jonze, and moved from New York to Los Angeles. It seemed her beer-spitting, mike-swallowing days were over.
For fans anxiously waiting to see if ''Bones" is a failed attempt at re-creating the radio success of ''Maps," it's not. Nor is it a rehash of the angular guitars and punk-rock snarl of tracks like ''Date With the Night" and ''Pin." The new album is a testament to Yeah Yeah Yeahs' ability to remain honest and fresh, and to grow and mature.
Album-opener and first single ''Gold Lion" begins with guitarist Nick Zinner's soft acoustic sound and drummer Brain Chase's steady rhythm. Karen O's voice comes in as she repeats the haunting ''Gold Lion's gonna show me where the light is," and despite the subdued, campfire sing-along feel, there's a tension building. The simple beat becomes stronger, the acoustic guitar is layered with a cascading riff, and, finally, the chorus erupts, with Karen O shrieking ''Ooh, ooh!" It's the frenetic energy of the trio's older, unpolished tunes, but with precision.
Though the band's rougher edges have been somewhat smoothed, they haven't disappeared. (You can hear the familiar mike-in-mouth growl on ''Fancy" and the cacophony at the end of
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''Mysteries.") But moments of pop mastery dominate the album. ''Cheated Hearts" has breakout potential with an up-tempo feel that would be just as comfortable at an Allston basement dance party as on Top 40 radio. The nursery-rhyme melody of ''Dudley" is achingly beautiful; Karen O's voice sounds sweet and almost country -- at least as country as a New York art-punk outfit can get.
While Zinner's guitar work is still top-notch and Chase's drumming remains strong, it's Karen O who captivates. On ''Honeybear," she's confident, commanding, and cool, but she's not the caped superhero we heard thrashing through most of the tracks on ''Fever." Now, she's exploring the vulnerability she showed glimpses of on ''Maps." On the stripped-down confessional ''Warrior," she sings ''Men they like me, 'cause I'm a warrior" as if she's trying to decide if that's a good thing.
Three years have done Yeah Yeah Yeahs good. A band can last only so long on screaming choruses and theatrics. Now, however, she and her bandmates have created music that outshines -- and will outlast -- her wild reputation.