Review Summary: Splat.
It’s tough not to want to fall in love with Mosquito
. Here is a record that is so defiantly its own beast that it proudly throws out a one-fingered salute to such concepts as “theme” or “direction.” The gist of Mosquito
is that there is no gist. Yeah Yeah Yeahs have always been adept at changing their sound to accommodate the times; it’s why they’re still kicking around, headlining festivals and generally being a kickass rock band, while their early ‘00s NYC peers are gone or forgotten. Where 2009’s superb It’s Blitz!
showed that the band could write a mean synth hook as well as Nick Zinner could up the fuzz, Mosquito
delves even deeper into a sound that is increasingly divergent and, at times, barely recognizable as Yeah Yeah Yeahs. First single “Sacrilege” is a fine example, setting things off with a full blown gospel choir and a typically combustible performance by Karen O. The epic scope and superfluous backing is an odd tack, but it is in line with what the band has always been comfortable doing – pushing their boundaries while maintaining those sharp pop sensibilities. That anything-goes mentality is admirable, but where It’s Blitz!
succeeded precisely because it was so focused, Mosquito
dips its toes into far too many pools to ever have a chance to really stop and appreciate the feeling.
Somewhere in this jumbled mess of a record is a gem of an art-pop album, one where you can clearly see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs expounding on the eclectic promise that It’s Blitz!
hinted at. The grotesque, reggae-tinged “Under The Earth;” the skittish breakbeat of “These Paths;” “Subway,” another in a long line of insta-classic Yeah Yeah Yeahs ballads; these are songs as thrilling and adventurous as anything the band has done before. Yet in the context of the rest of the album, these songs are oases of inspiration in a disjointed desert of half-baked ideas and uneven songwriting. It’s the aural equivalent of that bizarre cover, an amalgam of contrasting styles and thoughts that clash playfully and loudly against one another but rarely in concert. Songs like the title track and “Area 52” almost sound like parodies of the band’s punk past, more an after-school special or something you’d expect to find on a rarities compilation rather than standing by side with the haunting “These Paths” or the meditative heartache of “Subway.” Dr. Octagon’s (aka Kool Keith) guest spot on “Buried Alive” is even more bizarre, a textbook case of cognitive dissonance that is meant to be fun but is just embarrassing for all involved. In Mosquito’s
discombobulated world, throwing up a guest rap verse in the middle of a James Murphy-produced song is par for the course, experimentation for the sake of experimentation and nothing more.
For a band that has prided itself on keeping things fresh, this sort of halfhearted progressive spirit is arguably worse than if the band had decided to just double down on “Zero.” At its best, Mosquito
is exactly that original, exhilarating album that “Sacrilege” promised, lurking somewhere down past all the erratic genre exercises. It’s there when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs commit, either thematically (“These Paths,” “Subway”) or emotionally (“Wedding Song,” the latest in a long line of weepy, nakedly powerful stunners from the group). The problem is, in the chaotic world of Mosquito
, commitment is hard to find; at its worst, the album is a caricature of the band’s frenetic live show, Karen O giving her all on a song about how mosquitos suck blood and giving us absolutely no reason to sing along. Luckily for fans of the group, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have had no problems in the past moving on to the next thing. Here’s hoping they spend a little time and decide how they want to get there first.