Music writers frequently substitute the term rawk for rock to differentiate the heaving behemoth of the music at its most physically assertive (rawk) from the umbrella term for the genre and overall culture (rock). The men from the boys and the women from the girls, as it were. In the case of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though, I tend to think of the neologism as a combination of rock and awkward. The Brooklyn trio may attempt to exude effortless cool, but there's an innate gawkiness about both guitarist Nick Zinner's spiky riffs and Karen O's shaky vocals--a reaching for something that is not yet within their grasp. That's the most appealing thing about them, and also the most suspect.
As you might guess, what's appealing is also what's immediate. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which was recently reissued by Touch and Go, is formally punk: five songs in fourteen minutes, ramalama guitar/ drums, yelped vox, "gimme gimme I wanna do stuff" lyrics. But unlike a lot of the neo-garage bands they're lumped in with (the Strokes, the Vines, etc.), there's no chewy center to their rock candy. A bootlegger can mount Christina Aguilera's vocals atop the Strokes' backing melody because they're as pop as she is. Try that with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and they'd throw Aguilera off and break her collarbone.
Which means that we'll be spared the spectacle of Karen O collaborating with Desmond Child on theme songs for Spider-Man sequels. (Wish I could predict the same for Julian Casablancas.) But when O squeals, "What I need tonight's the real thing/I need the real thing tonight/Yeah yeah yeah," on "Bang," are we supposed to burst into applause at her self-conscious primitivism? Or should we merely suspect she'll be going back to art school soon enough--that she doesn't have nearly as much invested in this as she says she does? Maybe I'm just being an overintellectual churl. Maybe Karen O really does just want to rawk. Incontestably, for these five songs and fourteen minutes, she does. But I wouldn't be surprised if she never does it again, nor would I feel all that betrayed.
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