Ten years after their aggressive, infectious full-length debut Fever to Tell, and four years after the magnificent It’s Blitz!, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have returned with Mosquito, an album that may prove to be the band’s most polarizing and least immediate offering to date. Lead singer Karen O has chosen to don Elvis-inspired jumpsuits while supporting the band’s latest album, but the new work gives every indication that the bratty, beer spitting persona she displayed may have finally, and truly, left the building. Drummer Brian Chase and multi-instrumentalist Nick Zinner join O in what is an inspired, if challenging, introspective synthesis of the band’s previous incarnations. But for those who are willing to endure a few odd turns (and the worst YYYs song to date), Mosquito ultimately offers a number of seductive rewards.
The album delivers from the opening notes of the driving “Sacrilege.” Chase and Zinner find what is likely the band’s most dance floor-ready groove to date and the song builds in intensity to an unexpected conclusion: Where many artists deploy a gospel choir to impart emotional heft, the coda of this opening track and lead single delivers a powerful payoff rarely seen elsewhere in this eleven song set. It certainly proves a tough act to follow for the mellow, meandering “Subway” and the driving, insistent, but too-literal title track which buzzes, but may have to wait for live incarnations in order to truly bite. Sonically, “Mosquito” is instant gratification. Lyrically, it is empty calories and an odd choice for title track.
The album gains steam again with the slinky, hypnotic “Under the Earth,” the seductive, distant “Slave,” and the PJ Harvey-indebted “These Paths” before going off the rails with the aforementioned train wreck “Area 52.” The less said about this future alien invasion B-movie soundtrack castoff the better, as it mars what is an otherwise exciting (if poorly sequenced) album. “Buried Alive” follows and it may well be the most eagerly anticipated duet of the year. Sadly this collaboration with legendary hip-hop eccentric Dr. Octagon feels forced as the track is a missed opportunity for alchemy between two of the more unique, creative characters in music today. The result certainly doesn’t match the potential of its parts.
Mosquito ends with the devastating 1-2 punch of the rousing “Despair,” a propulsive showcase of Zinner’s always inventive guitar work and majestic ballad “Wedding Song.” This beautiful closing number, which harkens back to the grandeur of career highlights like “Maps” and “Hysteric,” demonstrates that the band still excels at conveying the sentimental without being cloying along the way. It may not be enough to keep many longtime fans from wishing for more of the abrasive textures of their earlier work, but if Karen O and company have earned anything, it is the right to travel their own creative path. If Mosquito is any indication, as the band matures, that path will continue to be winding and rewarding.