by Ben Adsett
With the reissue of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s seminal debut album, Fever to Tell, VH’s Ben Adset looks back at an album that still shines 13 years after its initial release.
There is something truly individual about the single guitar, vocals and drums amalgamated with looping and samples to create a sense of wonder. This release came out nearly three years after The Strokes ‘saved’ indie, a time where the genre was slowly stagnating back into a macho rock ‘n’ roll sound in the shape of Jet and The Datsuns. The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s were exactly what the early noughties needed. Frankly every era needs a Karen O.
Track one, ‘Rich’, opens with an almost uncomfortable digital riff backed with simple drums. Then the opening vocal comes in with an added choppy bass line creating something that goes from nought to iconic in seconds, then the guttural growl comes in and the entire song becomes instantly memorable. The segway between this and ‘Date With the Night’ is absolute perfection; Fever to Tell couldn’t have a better opening.
The record has absolutely no problem maintaining that quality, in fact it just seems to get better and better. Within each and every track there are moments to fall in love with; the guitar line in ‘Man’ could have fallen out of a Led Zeppelin demo, ‘Tick’ has the combination of powerful and breathy vocals which create a sexually fuelled two minutes of pure joy, and ‘Black Tongue’ combines morbid lyrics with an equally dark musical backing. This is probably the finest example of Karen O’s incredible song writing, with dark lyrics fuelled by youthful lust. That said this was a time where a women being so open about sex, relationships and emotion was a rarity.
‘Pin’ arrives, and after a chaotic opening, the emotion in both vocals and lyrics will slay even the toughest of tear ducts. This love song has a the most beautiful jagged opening followed by incredibly emotive vocals. It’s a quiet start which creates a wonderful sense of balance.
But as with everything on this LP simplicity doesn’t last long, the rabble rousing chorus sees guitars strummed harder, drums hit harder and vocals swap fragility for strength. ‘Cold Light’ seems like the perfect partner amongst the sleaze and breathy vocals.
‘No No No’ offers an incredible introduction; building drums and delicate guitars accompany fragile vocals, before a post rock riff arrives encouraging another powerful vocal. This all culminates in a distant ending where vocals layer with feedback and a bass line that would feel equally at home on a dub track.
‘Maps’ is the second weeper hidden within the depths of this release. From the moment the gently picked guitar line and synth combine, it becomes a standout on an album full of singles. The vocals are absolute perfection, every emotive crack creates another jerk in the tear duct. The fade that ‘Maps’ ends on is possibly the toughest blow, and as ‘Y control’ takes over with a choppy bass line and soaring guitar, the climax of this LP seems to take everything up another level.
In another heart wrenching twist ‘Modern Romance’ takes on a Velvet Underground style; vocals wrought with fragility. It is within this song that the romantic subtext of the album becomes most apparent, while closer, ‘Yeah New York’ (which appeared as a bonus track on the UK special release of the album), ends the record as it began, with equal parts camp and dark – a mix between the Cramps and New York Dolls.
There are so many artists who have taken influence from this album; the guitars could fit effortlessly into a Nelson Can song, the build-up and guitar/bass play off in the quieter moments could be early The National, while bands and artists like CSS, Lorde, Halsey, and Wolf Alice have clearly taken a few notes on vocal delivery. However, at the time the record was met with cynicism; the band were seen as style over substance, but fourteen years on, Fever to Tell really stands the test of time.
The Fever to Tell reissue will be available as a Limited Edition Deluxe Box, Standard LP, and Digital Deluxe and standard re-mastered editions on October 20th.