Released Apr. 16th on Interscope Records
I don’t get what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are doing on Mosquito. The group has evolved in new directions with each album, from the zany garage punk of Fever to Tell (2003) to the indie rock of Show Your Bones (2006) and on through the synth-heavy dance pop of It’s Blitz! (2009). Through it all they’ve maintained a weirdness of character that’s probably their most appealing trait, but Mosquito feels like a step sideways. Many of the tracks seem to play weird simply for weirdness’ sake, but that’ll only take a song so far. Sure it’s always been nifty that Karen O’s voice sounds alien, but if it’s not in service of a rollicking number like those on Fever or Blitz then I’m not going to stay interested.
For its first half, Mosquito alternates between big rock numbers and subdued, sleepy ones. It starts off strong with “Sacrilege” building up to a big production climaxed by the addition of a gospel choir. Then things quickly turn for the strange: “Subway” pulls the interesting trick of using an actual subway train clacking on the rails as its percussion base, which combines with O’s falsetto vocals for a very hypnotic effect…a bit too hypnotic, since it comes so early on the album and goes on for so long (at 5:17, it ties with “Buried Alive” for longest track) it’s more likely to induce sleep than anything else. The album’s title track has a big rock sound led by a tribal drum beat, and O sounds quite zany doing her imitation of the titular insect; it’s fun, but not nearly as much as the amped-up craziness of Fever‘s “Tic” or any of Blitz‘s wild dance numbers. Besides, a 4-word chorus is still a 4-word chorus.
The slow-burning “Under the Earth” eventually gives way to another standout, “Slave”, which builds up to a big sound sure to have audiences pulsating at shows. “These Paths” has a skittering beat and eventually morphs into something sinister, though it doesn’t seem to go anywhere from there. “Area 52” is just weird, laying spacey electronic effects over big rock drums and bass with O sneering kooky lyrics about an alien invasion. Again, a fun moment, but not as fun as the band has demonstrated in the past. “Buried Alive” wins on its dark groove, but whether the cameo rap from Dr. Octagon (one of the alter egos of rapper Kook Keith) works or seems intrusive is up to you. “Always” sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs doing a Moby impression after having watched The Beach.
The final two numbers fare better. “Despair” begins with a single-note riff and builds upward; it never quite climaxes, but it contains some of O’s better lyrics on this record: “Oh despair / You’ve always been there / You’re there through my wasted years / Through all of my lonely fears”. “Wedding Song”, which O actually sang to her husband at their nuptials, is subdued and lovely, closing out the record on a smooth note.
Ultimately, the mixed bag of styles, sounds, and directions on Mosquito prevent the songs from congealing into a cohesive album, and this keeps it from measuring up to their past work. There are a few standout tracks that will be enjoyed by fans of their prior albums, but overall it doesn’t feel as well-sequenced or as naturally appealing as those records.