About two years before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made their second album, 2006’s Show Your Bones, Karen O fell off a stage in Sydney, Australia, and injured her back so badly she ended up in a wheelchair. Her performances had always been physical—commanding the stage was, in her way, a seizure of feminine power from the tyranny of punk rock’s boys’ club. But the injury forced a reckoning: How can artists known for self-destruction survive their own act? And why would any creative person want to do things the way they’d done them before?
Show Your Bones was decidedly different from 2003’s Fever to Tell: The sound is softer and harder to place; passionate but not so confrontational. There’s enough stomp there to qualify it as garage-adjacent (“Honeybear,” “Mysteries”), but the music is leavened by a sense of poeticism (“Gold lion's gonna tell me where the light is”) that makes it feel personal, even a little mystical. Where the band’s self-titled 2001 debut EP and Fever to Tell capture a force exploding outward, Show Your Bones captures a force turning inward, exploring vulnerability while cultivating personal strength. The band’s video for “Cheated Hearts”—collaged together from clips of fans imitating the band in their bedrooms, basements, and bathrooms—isn’t just a clever solution for a promotional exercise, it’s a metaphor for the album’s spirit: rocking out, but in the warmth and safety of your room.
Show Your Bones was part of a wave of second records by buzzy early-2000s New York rock bands—including The Strokes and Interpol—that were finding ways to survive their initial hype and build a future. Depending on accounts, they scrapped as many as two albums of new material before landing where they did, and guitarist Nick Zinner said that the pressure of changing ruptured his relationship with Karen O so badly the band almost broke up. And yet the art came through. “Men, they like me/’Cause I’m a warrior,” O sings on “Warrior,” a late-album highlight so spare it feels like it might collapse. That lyric looks powerful on paper—but on record, it sounds weary, the reckoning of someone trying to break free.