The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'Mosquito'
In the early 2000’s, three bands stood out in a new movement reigniting rock’s grit, independence, and creativity: The White Stripes, The Strokes, and the New York garage rock trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs became known for their loud and unwielding garage rock sound, but mostly for the singular figure that was their frontwoman, Karen O. The artsy, mop-topped frontwoman made a name for herself with her wild costumes, seemingly possessed and outlandish stage antics, ferociously roar of a voice, and an endless well of energy. Today, the modern indie rock music scene is as alive as ever, with its pioneers still somewhat active. The White Stripes lie finished although frontman Jack White is as active as ever, The Strokes released their 6th but least inspired album in Comedown Machine a month ago, and the garage rock trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs are now releasing just their fourth album in Mosquito. Though it has its flashes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs latest album stands as their weakest album to date, with a hammy comic book feel and a slew of repetitive retread songs.
Working somewhat to its disadvantage, Mosquito opens with its lead single and clearly best track in “Sacrilege”, sort of like the comedy that released all its best jokes in the trailer. Summoning the haunting gospel spirit of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”, “Sacrilege” critiques the judgmental and hidden treatment of sex in our culture, with a soulful gospel choir to boot to bring the song to its full-blown finish. “Subway” follows bringing the momentum train of “Sacrilege” to a near full stop (pun intended), but is a simple but beautifully illustrated slow-burner about a glimmer of love found and seemingly forever lost on the Metro.
Following the contrasting greatness of “Sacrilege” and “Subway”, the album hits a fork in the road in “Mosquito”. The title track has Karen O as the mosquito using her usual dramatic vocals with less success than she has had in similar but better songs like “Honeybear” and “Date With The Night”. “Under The Earth” follows with a dub reggae groove underlying the song and tons of echo effects on the vocals and guitar but sleeks along with a middling chorus in a muddle of sound. “Slave” similarly moves along with a dub groove but at least bursts into motion at the minute mark on the strength of Nick Zinner’s spiky guitar.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs seem to be showing their love for comic books on Mosquito, especially on “Area 52” and “Buried Alive.” “Area 52” rides by on a spaceship of Zinner’s bouncy lead guitar riff mixed in with an assortment of alien noises from the guitar, Brian Chase’s percussion, and production tricks. Like the mutant baby covered in ooze on the album’s bizarre cover, “Buried Alive” sounds fit for another crew of mutant babies covered in ooze—The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If I didn’t sadly know the new Ninja Turtles movie isn’t coming out for another two years, I would have thought that “Buried Alive” was the single from the soundtrack. When rapper Dr. Octagon comes in, it sounds like he is picking up the mantle from Vanilla Ice when he did “Go Ninja Go, Ninja Go”.
In the last third of the album, Karen O and company right the ship a bit of with the sincerity of “Always,” “Despair,” and “Wedding Song,” although it feels so disconnected from the tacky comic book theme that owns the bulk of this album. “Always” has a chorus as repetitive as they get, but the song gets through with the heart and warmth that shines through in this faithful and persevering love song. “Despair” does what the band has done so great in the past on songs like “Turn Into” and “Little Shadow”—lifting a song out of darkness into a life-affirming song that says “some sun has got to rise.” “Wedding Song” is similarly sincere and heartfelt, and feels like a left-over from their last album It’s Blitz.
While not without its highlights, Mosquito never reaches the heights of past efforts and feels so disjointed at points it’s hard to fully engage with. This could simply be the problem of being a trio. Often bands with fewer colors (or instruments) to paint with end up hitting a wall at some point. While I think this isn’t the end of the trio’s creative streak, I do think the fact that the band has only released four albums in 11 years and has largely relegated to side projects (with guitarist Nick Zinner landing on a handful of albums with production and instrumentation credits and Karen O landing on several other albums and scoring one of her own) is telling that the spare garage rock sounds of the band may not hold all the band wants to do. I do believe that Mosquito will stand as more of a pothole in this band’s career rather than the brick wall. They have too much to offer the music world to be finished.