Three years ago, when lead singer Karen O and her two male compatriots in Yeah Yeah Yeahs let loose the febrile Fever to Tell upon the world, the music press treated them as the wild child of the same Brooklyn indie scene that tossed up the Strokes. That won't happen with Show Your Bones. Not content with international street cred and the sold-out gigs that come with it, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have made certain that this album (which went to number 11 on the Billboard sales chart in the first week of its release) would transcend both Brooklyn and the post-punk revival by doing the unthinkable: softening their sound.
Instead of caterwauling and bleating track after track, O usually bends to the melody on Show Your Bones. Instead of knifing through the mix or relying on a fusillade of noise to make his point, wraithlike guitarist Nick Zinner concentrates on hooks and washes of processed six-strings and keyboards to build tunes that linger in the ear. To put it crudely, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have grown up and become a pop band - one that just happens to have noisy post-punk sources.
In concert, O still wears the theatrical, cut-and-paste outfits put together by personal designer Christian Joy, and undoubtedly she'll still crawl on all fours if that's what it takes to transform an icy crowd of too-cool-for-school know-it-alls into a sweaty mass of true believers. But those aren't the key features of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' act anymore. They showed that they could go pop on Fever to Tell with the moody/sexy college rock hit "Maps," but now that impulse is full-blown. Making like a cross between Siouxie Sioux and Dale Bozzio of execrable '80s New Wave mercenaries Missing Persons, O trills, ululates and rasps the verses of the first single, "Gold Lion," using each vocal tick and trick to set the hook deeper. On "Honeybear" (a dance anthem if there ever was one), it's Zinner and two-fisted drummer Brian Chase's turn to transform a tinny disco beat and trashy '80s synth-rock into an irresistible squall of agit-pop.
All three reach their apotheosis on "Cheated Hearts" when a chest-beating O snarls "I know I'm bigger than the sound!" over Zinner's tessellated guitar part and Chase's machine-like drumming. Sure, it's an audacious statement. It's also exactly the sort that a real rock star would make.
Is Show Your Bones a perfect piece? No, but it's perfect enough. If this is the best that commercial American rock 'n' roll has to offer at the moment, we're in pretty good shape.