The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Albums Ranked

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Karen O, Brian Chase, and Nick Zinner) were heralded, along with bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes, as a key group of the early 2000s garage rock revival. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ raw post-punk sound quickly diverged into different territory, including dance, electronic, and pop influences. But I don’t think the band has ever really lost what made them vital across their five albums released in the 19 years since 2003. While I don’t write about them here, the band’s EPs YEAH YEAH YEAHS (2001), MACHINE (2002), and IS IS (2007) contain this same vitality, all part of a discography that has been regarded as some of the best rock music of our current millennium.

Favorite track: “Under the Earth”

Now, many hold the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to that highest of standards I just described. But I think there have been some let-downs in their relatively minimal discography (minimal for one that began nearly two decades ago). MOSQUITO is one such let-down. MOSQUITO was the first new Yeah Yeah Yeahs record I actively listened to in full right when it came out, and since I was already familiar with the three albums that came before it, I was doing a lot of comparing. After doing those comparisons, I came to the conclusion, then and now, that it was the band’s “worst” album yet. But those quotation marks offer the caveat; MOSQUITO is not a bad record. In fact, it’s a pretty electrifying piece of rock music in a pretty staid time for the genre. Hearkening back to the rawness of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ debut, FEVER TO TELL, in pure aggression if not song structure, MOSQUITO is actually a more experimental work than anything the band has put out. It raves and rambles through strange soundscapes with menacing tones, from upbeat and loud (as on the title track) to slinking and sinister (as on “Under the Earth”). MOSQUITO offers some rich rewards across its track list, but certainly not right away, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ other albums provide better initial and eventual delights.

Favorite track: “Spitting off the Edge of the World”

COOL IT DOWN is simultaneously a Yeah Yeah Yeahs let-down and slow burn gem. Coming nine-and-a-half years after MOSQUITO (the biggest gap between albums for the band), their latest and the impetus for this piece is certainly the most downtempo thing they’ve created. Much of COOL IT DOWN feels inspired by a dreampop sensibility, but with a more aggressive sensuality that has defined the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ work and O’s voice. On first listen, I thought the record kind of ineffectual. On repeat experiences, I found that it cultivated an ethereal yet moving atmosphere. Still, COOL IT DOWN is not rife with tracks that stand out spectacularly on their own among the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ other songs; instead, they congeal in service of the album experience, which is admirable.

Favorite track: “Heads Will Roll”

In spite of the assignation of “garage rock revival band,” the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, like their peers The Strokes, have seemed to attempt to reinvent themselves with every release. With IT’S BLITZ!, the trio took on dance music in a more decidedly groovy way than the poppy-er approach of its predecessor SHOW YOUR BONES. Listen to the beat on “Heads Will Roll” and its transition into the chorus; there is a fuzzy guitar that defines the whole thing, but you could totally hear the rhythm and melody replicated in a disco song. Many of the tracks on IT’S BLITZ! enter a pocket of repetition and pulsating drum loops, adorned with sparkly accents and production. But the rock drive of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is not absent on the album, which is not a total concession to mindless, full-throated abandon. There’s something dangerous lurking on IT’S BLITZ!, something present on all of the band’s releases, barring perhaps COOL IT DOWN, and it’s positively exciting.

Favorite track: “Maps”

Here’s where I may get in some trouble. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ debut album, FEVER TO TELL, is cited as one of the greatest rock records of the 2000s and all time, a milestone achievement in the development, or redevelopment, of a sound thought lost to time. And yes, let me be clear, it’s great. Before I get defensive of what I think the band’s truly greatest record is, I should just sing the praises of its predecessor. FEVER TO TELL is a truly remarkable, raw expression of aggression, and as some have noted, a combative kind of sexuality. That’s why “Maps,” my favorite track and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ greatest hit, is so refreshing and illustrates the band’s ability to never stay in one place right on their first powerful, cohesive record. It’s not alone; “Modern Romance” is a wonderful closer and palette-cleanser. But the overall impression of what came before it is not rinsed away. FEVER TO TELL fittingly offers a feverish experience, roiling and burning with an energy that pushes up the blood pressure as much as it pulls in with a brilliant orchestration of sounds.

Favorite track: “Gold Lion”

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ much anticipated follow up to FEVER TO TELL was seen, to an extent by some, as a sophomore slump. But I think that’s because it kind of bucked expectations, and in my case, for the better. Instead of doing a FEVER TO TELL “Part Two,” SHOW YOUR BONES pulled the band’s instincts (an offbeat sense of fun, an insidious leveraging of rock basics) into a poppy-er and brilliantly written mold. You can hear it right away on opener “Gold Lion.” O sings with an inflected approximation of popstar delivery over upbeat pop rock, buzzing with a darker yet fun energy, before the whole track delves into chaos. It’s the perfect fusion that defines the rest of the album to come. The overall impression of SHOW YOUR BONES is an album made to stretch the limits of what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were already defined as, by the band as well as critics and fans. In the process, the group didn’t produce some kind of off-putting, avant-garde work; instead, they broadened their horizons and churned out a slate of incredibly catchy tunes. But SHOW YOUR BONES is not a work of bubblegum pop. It’s rocking and keeps that darkly gleaming core that makes all of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ albums worth listening to. However, SHOW YOUR BONES explodes with an irresistible, churning energy unrivaled by the rest of the band’s discography.

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