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Fever To Tell
Breathless, sexy, frantic – the album’s forty minutes include five minutes waiting around for a hidden extra track; don’t bother, it’s shite – Fever To Tell is a racket but an undeniably glorious one.
Phil Udell, 09 May 2003
In all probability, someone somewhere has already told you about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. With the scantiest of track records, they have assumed the mantel of the next big thing with ease, the cool name to drop this summer. Indeed, so much media space has been dedicated to the three New Yorkers that you feel you know them intimately before a note of their debut album has been struck.
Faced with such fevered anticipation, how can Fever To Tell really be anything but a let down? On first listen, it certainly is something of a crashing disappointment. Yes they snarl and rage and spit – particularly the much feted Karen O – but surely there has to be more to it than that? The Clash, The Pistols, Nirvana; they all snarled, raged and spat but they also knew to channel that aggression into melody, song structure and all those boring muso things that mean we’re still coming back to London Calling twenty years later and marvelling at it’s majestic depth.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs have all the right moves, they just seem to be lacking the heart and soul, the musical equivalent if a toddler throwing a tantrum just to get your attention. By the time you reach the bloody awful ‘No, No, No’ it’s a done deal, review written, next please.
Then something strange happens. Buried away at the end are the album are three songs of such wasted elegance, style and fuck off cool that this doesn’t look like a pointless exercise after all.
‘Maps’ is a gentle love song, of all things, that sees them throw away the effects and noise in favour of something a lot more human and affecting. ‘Y Control’ beats with dark and sleazy pop heart that pays its debts to those earlier doyens of NYC cool, Blondie. ‘Modern Romance’, meanwhile, closes proceedings in a fragile and touching fashion, the tinkling sleigh bells adding to the surreal nature of the whole experience.
In light of these revelations, Fever To Tell starts to make a lot more sense second time around. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before by The Cramps, The White Stripes, Sleater Kinney or Jon Spencer but New York punk always was built on recycling the past. Breathless, sexy, frantic – the album’s forty minutes include five minutes waiting around for a hidden extra track; don’t bother, it’s shite – Fever To Tell is a racket but an undeniably glorious one.
And it isn’t hard to see why O has been elected to such iconic status, her performance on the album is in turns confrontational, psychotic and vulnerable – the sort of turn that Craig Nicholls seems to be basing his entire career on. The coolest band in the world right now? Quite probably. The next big thing? Hmmm. The lack of great songs could be a problem. Despite that late rally, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are missing a ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or even a ‘Last Night’, something that will lodge them firmly in the world’s consciousness.