Home Read Classic Album Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs | Fever to Tell

Classic Album Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs | Fever to Tell

The N.Y.C. indie-rock trio back up the hype on their memorable full-length debut.

This came out in 2003 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Hype is a lot like bragging: It’s only a lie if you can’t back it up.

And while I don’t know if New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been doing a whole lot of boasting, I do know that they are easily the most heavily hyped American band since The White Stripes and Strokes. Of course, there’s a good reason for that: Singer Karen O is a ready-made rock star with her exotic looks, mesmerizing screech and outlandish antics; her bandmates Nick Zinner (guitar) and Brian Chase (drums) crash and burn with fiery intensity; and their songs are sharp, lurching little bursts of noise-pop, blooz-punk, garage-rock and art-punk that are gritty enough to win over the college crowd but hooky enough to justify the major-label deal they signed for this peculiar and addictive debut album.

The 12-song Fever to Tell takes up right where their two previous indie EPs left off. The guys make with the low-rent hoodoo, laying down thick hypnotizing grooves of primal thwack ’n’ rust-scraping fuzz like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or Boss Hog. The divine Ms. O channels the spirits of Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie Sue and Polly Jean Harvey, riding an emotional rollercoaster that veers between defiant come-ons (“Let’s do this like a prison break”), temper tantrums (“I’ll take you out, boy!”) and full-fledged meltdowns as she yelps and shrieks and moans and howls and chants like some sort of borderline autistic (“Ticktickticktickticktickticktick”).

Individually, all the parts sound good, but meshed together, they add up to an exceptional whole, creating jittery, chaotic cuts like Man, Rich, Tick and Pin that play fast and loose with traditional verse-chorus song structure, preferring to lurch and swagger and stumble and stomp and generally try to get in your face and unsettle you like an unstable streetperson. Sure, it’s easy to see why the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are so heavily hyped. But once you listen to Fever to Tell a few times, it’s also easy to see they can back it up.