Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On Karen O and Rock Stardom

Loading up the retro shuffle that Jake bought me for Christmas, I rediscovered the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 2003 album Fever To Tell. Other than The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the first 'indie' rock band I really got into, and I still have fond memories of playing it over and over on a long car trip that spring. Once I had played it out, I put it back into my cd wallet and more or less let it sit there until last week.

I wouldn't say that Fever To Tell is a great album - too many of its songs don't do enough for me to call it 'great' - but its highs are as high as almost any album that came out this decade. The critical and commercial success of "Maps" was such that few would consider it anything other than a modern standard, and "Y Control" is as good of a dance-rock song as anything released by The Killers, Bloc Party, or Phoenix. There were plenty of albums with ten songs as good as Fever To Tell's, but very few with two songs as good as those.

Listening to the album again after all of these years, the main thing that jumped out at me was that it just bleeds "rock star" - that "it" factor which, to paraphrase the great Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's expression about pornography, is impossible to define, but I know it when I see it. Most of the leading singers in the indie rock movement go out of their away to avoid the trappings of rock stardom, acting like just a member of the band, and keeping their partying low-key and their love affairs out of the spotlight. They produce serious, artistic albums, albums for your consideration. But every time Karen O opens her mouth, she evokes booze, sex, small, sweaty night clubs, and the mystique of Robert Plant and Janis Joplin. A little mystique goes a long way. There are a lot of great musicians in indie rock; what it needs is a few good rock stars. Karen O, Jack White, Jenny Lewis, and Julian Casablancas are among the only ones we've got, and from time to time we need to close the Pitchfork window and let them rock us.

Also, in case you haven't seen it, "Y Control" has one of the more memorable music videos I've ever seen. Thank you, Spike Jonze.


Senor Beavis said...

I burned this CD from 8yearoldsdude about a year and a half ago and it's just plain fun, and often juvenile fun at that, and I mean that in a good way.

Regardless of what lyrics sheets say, I will continue to sing the chorus to
"Date With the Night" as "Chop! Chop! Chop! Chop!" The phrase, "I gotta man that makes me wanna ..." is pretty incomparable as far as substituting your own depraved lyrics. And who among us can hear the chorus of "Tick" and not think "Dick dick dick dick ... etc."

Maybe it's not that much fun and I'm just repressed, but I don't think it has to be mutually exclusive.

Wade Garrett said...

No, I think its a lot of fun. I've always thought of it as juvenile fun, too, but I used to think of it as sort of a guilty pleasure in that way, but since it still holds up eight years later, I'm just going to ahead and drop the adjective and say that its just plain fun. Really, "Y Control" and "Maps" would both be among my 50 or so favorite songs of the decade, and yet I had never really thought of Fever to Tell as a great record. Its okay to have a couple of songs of filler when your album delivers two songs as great as those.