The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Like the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had a huge place in reviving rock music in the early 2000s. Also like the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s latest album stands as their worst to date, with a hammy comic book feel and a slew of repetitive retread songs. It doesn’t help that 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. Beside “Sacrilege”, which has the band summoning the gospel ghosts of “Gimme Shelter”, the New York trio tries two other new tricks here in dub reggae (“Under The Earth”, “Slave”) and a cartoonish comic book theme (“Mosquito”, “Area 52”, “Buried Alive”) that just don’t really work for me.
Like the mutant baby covered in ooze on the album’s bizarre cover, “Buried Alive” sounds fit for another crew of mutants that were once 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 with Dr. Octagon (aka Kool Keith) picking up the mantle from Vanilla Ice when he did “Go Ninja Go, Ninja Go”. Other songs like “Mosquito” and “Area 52” just feel a bit corny to come from a band as cool as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The last third of the album rights the ship a bit with “Always”, “Despair”, and “Wedding Song”, but I can’t help but think even the best songs on Mosquito are retreads of better songs from past albums. I am sure this will be more of a speedbump than a brick wall in the band’s career though.
I’ve listened to Mosquito three times through now, and I will never listen to this album in its entirety again. Let me break down my listening experience into three distinct “phases”.
Phase #1: The Initial Listen
This first phase consisted of listening to the album while doing some other work on my computer. “Sacrilege” is an obvious winner as the album opener, and as the lead single a song I already enjoyed. After that, I got a little distracted, and not much stood out. But, I also was not able to absorb the horror of some of the subsequent tracks.
Phase #2: The Horror Envelops Us
The second time listening to Mosquito, I was able to really focus, and it was a shock to the system. From really taking a look at the atrocious album art to the obnoxious buzzing by Karen O on the title track, I was left pretty speechless. The further embarrassment of the track “Area 52”, and its obvious reach for a thematic gimmick, as well as the addition of Kool Keith’s alias Dr. Octagon on “Buried Alive” cement Mosquito as the front-runner for most disappointing album of 2013. (Note: Dr. Octagon is described on wikipedia as an extraterrestrial time-traveling gynecologist and surgeon. This is effed up.)
Phase #3: Clawing For Redemption
On my third listen, I had to really try to put on my objectivity hat to find much I like about Mosquito. Wes is correct in noting the final few tracks, particularly “Despair”, work to provide some basis for Mosquito’s existence. Those last few tracks, along with “Sacrilege”, are solid to spectacular. But the damage was already done by this point. Mosquito, as a whole, is a horrific mess, and that really sucks because Yeah Yeah Yeah’s have been one of the best, if not the best, artists of the past 10+ years.
The problem that my fellow LxL’ers are having is one of expectation vs. reality. We made it quite clear in our “Most Anticipated Albums of 2013” Top Ten Thursday list that we were a little more than excited for this album. Yeah Yeah Yeahs have only ever seemed to get better with each album leading up to my personal favorite of their’s, It’s Blitz!. The only natural response to this is to think that this album should top even that as well. Especially when considering David Sitek (TV On the Radio) and James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) produced the album. Well it did not top It’s Blitz!. Boy did it not. It unfortunately also brought along a couple extremely sub par tracks with it. I feel that because of this, Wes and Austin are treating what would otherwise be a somewhat decent album a bit harsher than they should.
They did well at picking out the best songs. “Sacrilege” (One of the best songs of the year), “Subway”, “Despair” and “Wedding Song” are all something like a phenomena. Clever Yeah Yeah Yeahs-based puns aside, they really are fantastic tracks and that almost makes up for half the album. Personally I think “Mosquito” is also a great track. It brings a tribal essence to the band that hasn’t been heard before, and although slightly repetitive, it is a high energy freak-out song. I am also fond of the very dubby “Under the Earth” and the hypnotic “These Paths”. The few songs I can’t defend are obvious at this point, and easily the worst songs of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs career. “Buried Alive” taking the cake as the worst song of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs career. I can almost respect Karen O channeling her inner “I Wanna Be Your Dog” days from Iggy and the Stooges on “Area 52” but neither the ferociousness nor the ambiguous interest are present. The problem is these tracks aren’t just gloss over tracks, they are completely miserable. Had “Buried Alive” and “Area 52” been left off the album, I still don’t think Mosquito would touch It’s Blitz! on a comparative scale, but it’d be a much better album as a whole. Hey, not every album in a band’s library can be perfect.
Aggregate Rating: 5.5/11
Can’t Miss: “Sacrilege”, “Subway”, “Despair”, “Wedding Song”
Can’t Hit: “Buried Alive”, “Area 52” , “Mosquito” (Wes and Austin Only on “Mosquito”)