The music industry was in crisis in 2009. Spotify was only a year old and the streaming model was not yet seen as viable. Sales of physical music had waned, and illegal downloading was at its height; LimeWire was infecting both our clunky Dells with viruses and our ears with lossy versions of quality tunes. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz fell victim to this, with its projected April release date being hurried to March of 2009 ahead of leaks. How very noughties.
It’s Blitz kicks off with possibly the most stomping opener of the 2000s. A bold claim, but there are surely few more blatant statements of intent than “Zero”. “Get your leather, leather, leather on…” Karen O breathily exerts Zero, a figure with no name. An invite to a BDSM night? Who knows, but it’s a stonking party and we’re all invited. Karen’s vocals reach an orgasmic high amid a whirr of pulsing beats and insistent synths, and just as we’re catching our breath it’s time to dance again.
One decade-defining party tune is probably enough for most bands, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs give us two in a row on the same album. Next up is the iconic “Heads Will Roll”. If you’ve been to any vaguely alternative venue in the ensuing decade since 2009, you’ve heard this song, or probably the A-Trak remix. The video, featuring a headless Karen O bleeding glitter after a crazed wolfman attack, along with the exhortation to “dance till you’re dead” ensures it’ll always get a spin around Halloween. And full disclosure, I listened to this song on every night out I had on my study abroad. I still stick it on at any party where the host is foolish enough to let me near the speakers.
It would be hard for any album to keep up the pace of these two opening tracks and to their credit the Yeah Yeah Yeahs don’t even try. The third single from the album, “Skeletons” is a slightly eerie slow burn, and didn’t make much of a dent on the charts or our collective consciousness. That’s not to say the rest of It’s Blitz is a write-off. Far from it. “Dragon Queen” reimagines the pastiche of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden” and makes it affecting. “Shame and Fortune” combines the band’s break-out guitar sound with their newfound love of disco synths, giving us the full lush sound this album revels in. While nothing could ever match Fever To Tell’s beautiful Maps (those lyrics! That guitar! That video with Karen silently crying! Oh I could write a love letter to the whole thing!), “Runaway” gives it a good shot. The tinkling piano gives it a childlike, plaintive quality, and the chorus is a total earworm. Speaking of earworms, there’s “Dull Life.” The album’s final two tracks act in total opposition to the openers. “Hysteric” is almost gentle, with Karen crooning “you suddenly complete me”. Jazz organ synths finish us out with “Little Shadow”.
So ten years on, what, if any, influence has It’s Blitz had on popular music? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are not unlike Blondie; New York punks and charismatic front woman go disco. Karen O was a trailblazer ahead of the onslaught of female leads and solo singers that defined the era. Whether it was pop princesses like the ever-present Lady Gaga, or the forgotten Little Boots (the seven minute version of “Stuck on Repeat” is an absolute banger and I won’t hear otherwise), balladeers like Adele, iconic jazz sirens like Amy Winehouse or briefly burning indie bright lights like La Roux, the mid-to-late 2000s heralded the ongoing era of diverse female voices in pop music. For every record that plays with genre, that takes punk and makes it as danceable as ABBA, the era of classification and music snobbery seem more remote than ever. It’s Blitz was just one more nail in the coffin for the notion of genre. Plus, it has given me a party anthem that instantly brings me back to being twenty. “Heads Will Roll” is definitely getting played at my 70th.