While the Yeah Yeah Yeahs consciously avoided any songs that recalled their biggest hit, “Maps,” on their sophomore effort, Show Your Bones, it seems that they’ve used that song as a template for much of their third outing, It’s Blitz! It’s on the reverb-heavy “Skeletons,” with its martial percussion and soaring melodic hook, that the trio comes closest to replicating the nervy energy of that epic single, but the album-closing doubleshot of “Hysteric” and “Little Shadow” demonstrates how far the YYYs are able to push the structure of a rock ballad.
With Brian Chase’s skittering drum lines and Nick Zinner’s angular, buzz-saw guitar riffs used primarily for texture beneath producer Dave Sitek’s dense layer of synths, these two songs also best represent the stylistic pivot the band have successfully executed here. It’s jarring at first to hear Karen O sing, “You suddenly complete me” without a trace of irony in the chorus of “Hysteric”—a track that, it’s worth noting, owes a clear debt to Blondie’s “Atomic”—or to dial back her trademark hypersexualized vamp to a demure, nearly humble request of, “To the night/Will you follow me?” on “Little Shadow.” O is barely recognizable as the woman who built her reputation on deep-throating her mic on stage and extolling the man who makes her want to tick.
That’s not to say that Blitz isn’t a showcase for one of the most dynamic performers in rock. Quite the contrary: It’s O’s ability to impose her will on a song that carries the album capably through a couple of cuts like “Dragon Queen,” on which the band is joined by TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, and the ‘80s-krautrock-inspired “Soft Shock” that aren’t up to par. And when the songs do connect, as on the flat-out phenomenal single “Zero” and the furious “Dull Life” and “Shame and Fortune”—O’s fearless deliveries only elevate them further.
What’s tricky about the album, then, is appreciating those songs for what they are. While there’s a certain punk attitude to jumping onto the ‘80s-era dance bandwagon only after it has become completely unfashionable, the definite aesthetic shift here is abrupt. But that the shift ultimately works—and it absolutely does work—is a testament to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s continued tightening as a band. Lesser acts evolve gradually; on Blitz!, the YYYs full-on metamorphose. Sure, it’s easy to lament how fangless they sound here, with just hints of the skuzzy basement ferocity that has made Fever to Tell one of the decade’s most enduring records. But the finesse they display here, on their most mature and stylistically coherent record, may ultimately serve them even better.