Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito
When a new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album comes out, I honestly never know what to expect since the band's three LPs have been so different from one another. Debut Fever To Tell was loud, lively, rockin', and full of"¦well, what only can be described as "sexual energy." Follow up Show Your Bones toned things down a bit, with slightly mellower songs that sometimes utilized acoustic guitar and had a more "mature" (albeit still "˜artsy') sound to them. Then came It's Blitz, which featured synthesizers galore, the occasional dance track, and even some straightforward rock songs. With a precedent like this, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs could have made an entirely ambient post-rock album and I wouldn't have been too surprised.
Mosquito surprised me by incorporating the styles from each of these three albums and coming up with what is probably the most eclectic Yeah Yeah Yeahs album to date and definitely is their most experimental. Some tracks are as heavy as those on Fever To Tell, some are mellow, some have synthesizer, and one has a rapper (more on that later). To start things on a positive note, I will say that the tracks definitely don't blend together on Mosquito and listeners will not be left saying "wait, which one was that?" when track names are mentioned.
That said, as an experimental album, some things work and some things don't.
I'll start with what I thought really worked. First of all, there are some really solid tracks on this album that really showcase the talents of the bands' three members. Drummer Brian Chase really does a good driving, steady rock beat, guitarist Nick Zinner is great at throwing down loud, heavy riffs, and vocalist Karen O has an impressive vocal range that can go from sincere deep tones to shrill shouts at the drop of a hat. Lead track and first single "Sacrilege" fits this bill, and from the moment you hear Karen mutter "Falling for a guy/fell down from the sky" only to shout "Halo/round his head" a second later, you know Mosquito isn't going to be like any other Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. The track's tempo builds during its first chorus and stays relatively fast throughout, all until a gospel choir starts making its way in towards the end as Karen sings "and I'll plead/and I'll pray." All in all, it's a great opener, and the gospel choir is among the last things I was expecting on the album.
These talents are also featured on "Slave," a solid rock song marked by a powerful and distinct guitar riff as synthesizer noises permeate throughout and Karen pleads "keep me, keep me, your slave." Towards the end of the album, "Despair" is another truly great track, sounding somewhat like a Show Your Bones outtake by combining somewhat toned down instrumentation with dynamic vocals that builds into a triumphant crescendo at the end. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs also have a penchant for making the mellowest tracks on the album the closer, and the very sincere "Wedding Song" is no exception. While I truthfully don't visit the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' ballads too often, I do have to say it's a beautiful song and it works wonderfully as the outro.
Some tracks on the album definitely fall into the "good, but not great" category, such as the thumping "Under The Earth." Additionally, I'll admit that I like the two heaviest tracks on the album, title track "Mosquito" and "Area 52," which are very energetic rock tracks that recall Fever To Tell (I truthfully prefer "Area 52" to "Mosquito" though). Parts of the song "Buried Alive" also definitely work on Mosquito, mostly the pounding drums and piercing guitar riff. However, these songs all have aspects that don't work as well, which leads me into my next section"¦
"¦Of the not-so-good parts of Mosquito's experimentation. To start, the tracks "These Paths" and "Always" are annoyingly repetitive, the former containing a part where Karen goes into a hysterical-sounding falsetto that might be the only time I dislike her voice on the album. Second track "Subway" is backed by the sound of a subway slowly rolling along its tracks and has a bit of a tense feel to it, yet honestly doesn't build into anything and this train kind of goes nowhere in the end. Additionally, despite my praise of the two heavy tracks "Mosquito" and "Area 52," I do admit that their lyrics are"¦well, dumb, and enjoy them more for their instrumentation and the way they're sung. "Mosquito" seems to literally about its title insect with a chorus of "I will suck your blood!" while "Area 52" is expectedly about alien adventures and the distorted alien-like background vocals throughout kind of make the song too campy. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs apparently wanted to have silly, literal songs on the album (that kind of fit the Garbage Pail Kids-reminiscent album cover), and they got them. Additionally, "Buried Alive" features rapper "Dr. Octagon," an alternative name of rapper Kool Keith, on one of its verses and while indie rock songs can make guest rappers work, this isn't so much the case here. Dr. Octagon, in true rapper fashion, plugs his name no less than three times, and the whole guest verse feels oddly shoehorned into a relatively industrial-sounding rock song. Lastly, I kind of feel like the gospel choir part on "Sacrilege" goes on a little too long at the end. There, I said it.
For an experimental album, I do have to say that there are a really good number of successes on Mosquito, and though it has its shortcomings and missteps, they're not nearly as bad as they could have been for an album that tried so many new things at once. Almost all of the tracks have some redeeming quality that made my repeated listens enjoyable, and there are a number of songs that I know I'll be coming back to on the album with some regularity. However, there are also the tracks that I feel I'll be skipping if they were to come up on shuffle (looking at you, "These Paths" and "Always"), and the others where I'll listen and think "well I like this song, but did they really need this part?" Overall, like many of its tracks, Mosquito turned out to be a not great, but definitely good Yeah Yeah Yeahs album that held my attention in the band.