The new Yeah Yeah Yeahs' CD shares its name with the legendary London nightclub that served as a way station between '70s punk and '80s synth-pop. Like the club, the record doesn't straddle eras so much as create a temporary universe where one style solidifies as the next takes shape. Gone are the raw-meat guitar riffs and guttural shrieks that defined the band's debut EP and first album, Fever to Tell. In their place are fuzzed-out synths, danceable beats, and more controlled provocative vocals.
It's Blitz! still brings the heavy hell. “Heads Will Roll” opens with three ominous symphonic chords that warble, eerily, until Karen O commands, “Off! Off with their heads!” and leads everyone onto the devil's dancefloor. The dark vibe continues in “Dull Life,” with one of the most threatening melodies the band has written since “Maps.” The fragility of the verse gives way to a chorus knocked around by crashing high-hats and chugging riffs. And as the New Wave-y version of “Hysteric” versus its acoustic counterpart shows, a well-written Yeah Yeah Yeahs song can stand up to multiple arrangements. The album fizzles out when the influence of guest songwriter and producer Greg Kurstin becomes too noticeable. He has his place, but it isn't here. On “Runaway,” his penchant for a sprightly piano and staccato vocals almost curdles the band's natural ferocity with cuteness, nearly turning Karen O into Karen :0.
Nine years on, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs still sound like a band in transition. But their continued exuberance makes their process as relevant as ever.