by jon ledoux

In case you haven’t already heard, it sucks to be a New Yorker right now. Many say it’s reminiscent of the New York of the 1970′s. Blackouts, riots, prostitution, shitty politicians and even shittier subways. Many things have not changed in this city in the past thirty odd years, but something that has changed is it’s music. Particularly it’s punk music.

Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Song: Hysteric

Back when the Ramones and the Talking Heads were braving the derelict clubs of the East Village, there was a sense of rebellion and recklessness. Both in the streets and in the music that was informing the scene. The styles were broad, but whether Blondie was begging for it at the disco, or the Clash were assaulting the norms of what a pop record was, the urgency and retaliation of the music was palpable.

Today, our punk comes with a different flavor, that may not have the bark it once did, but it sure as hell has the bite.

Today the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s are (officially) releasing It’s Blitz!, their third album. Many would agree that Karen O. and company are today’s go-to punk outfit. However, the album has been blasted as sell out and conformist before it’s even hit the record shops.

The notion of punk is the ideology of subversion. It is the art of taking what you think you know, what you expect, and turning that idea on its head. It is the opposite, the contrary one. Not necessarily the awkward kid in the corner of the party talking to no one. But the kid who isn’t afraid to come to the party with a different agenda than the rest and lobby hard to get everyone else to hear his word, his ideas, on his terms.

To that end, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s have again given the unexpected. Subverted their own stereotype. Yes, of course, New York, America, and the western world are angry. They are smoldering at the begging of the new century; burned by the hedonism of the end of the last and looking bleakly towards an unstable future.

Instead of looking backwards and forcing an abrasive and reductive version of their debut Fever To Tell on their audience, they embrace the here and now of our time. By fusing both disco and electronic elements on top of their typical sonic palate, the album opens with two immediate dance-rock showcases. “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll” leave the listener expecting more, waiting for the blitz the album title and cover photo refer to.

Then we drop off, and this is where the album finds its footing and becomes a decidedly punk driven record. “Soft Shock,” the best of the new tracks, comes bubbling in with a sweet melody and atmospheric lyrics (unknown talk to unknown) until the climax comes with the realization that the song is a breakup waiting in the wings. The narrator wants the simple privilege of knowing when her love will leave her. She knows that he will; she wants to know when, to soften the blow.

From there the record slips back and forth between the vagaries of love lost and the drive to break free from its clutches. “Skeletons” is as ethereal as the band has ever been. While “Dragon Queen” and “Hysteric” revel in the late-70′s-circa now-synth dance tracks. The album closes with the simple and beautiful “Little Shadow.” As Karen O intones the last lyrics “to the night, will you follow me?” they become less a plea than an invitation to join in the soft reverie and the small pleasures that are among the few joys left to many in this time of strife.

Much in the same way the punk outfits of days gone by have asked for undivided attention with blaring guitars and forceful backbeats, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s have demanded ours by challenging our notions of the expected. The city is different now, long shuttered haunts are replaced with chains, and the neighborhoods once dangerous are now homogenized. Such is life. A brash assault will no longer work, no longer penetrate, we are too desensitized. What will work, amidst the chaos, is the individual, unafraid to be heard even at a whisper, brave enough to ask for the soft shock of failure.

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