Fever to Tell
Karen O once described the feeling leading up to Fever to Tell as being like a cowboy in a Western getting dragged by a mustang while his boot was still stuck in the stirrup: On the one hand, you’re the hero; on the other, the horse is in charge. It’s a neat metaphor in part because it captures the tension of the music itself. Where fellow turn-of-the-millennium New York City bands Interpol and The Strokes sounded (and looked) like four or five guys operating in unbreakable unison, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sounded (and looked) like three people continually yanking each other toward opposing corners of the mat with an energy so barely controlled you’d hold your breath wondering if they could make it through without falling apart. On their debut full-length album, you could hear aspects of disco (“Y Control”), blues-rock (“Man”), and other sounds that generally privilege the immediacy of the body over the digressions of the mind. (“Cold light/Hot night/Be my heater/Be my lover,” Karen O sings on “Cold Light”—it’s that simple.) But at the heart of the album was the sense of a band that could fill arenas if they wanted to and could manage to avoid the falling apart, while still retaining a bone-thin ferocity that hadn’t touched the mainstream since Nirvana. And in Karen O, they had a primal, magnetic lead vocalist whose raw power seemed driven in part by the shock that she had it in her in the first place. Then there was “Maps,” which connected the dirt and noise to concerns as transcendently romantic as Billie Holiday or Elvis singing “Blue Moon.” Written for her then-boyfriend, Angus Andrew of Liars, Karen O later described it as a love song she wanted everyone to hear. She got her wish.