The Yeah Yeah Yeahs adopt a more downtempo approach for new album Cool It Down, pulling from the well of Karen O’s tenderer performances on earlier tracks like MAPS and Wedding Song. There are high energy cuts here too but even these feel toned down compared to the 2000s era Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It is 9 years since their last LP, Mosquito, an effort that tried with limited success to revive the ‘right here, right now’ immediacy of their raucous debut Fever To Tell. As the album title would suggest, here the band are more at ease in succumbing to a slower pace as they embed themselves in atmospheric surroundings.
Lead single Spitting Off the Edge of The World demonstrates Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ability to vault between different styles and emotions. It is at turns meditative, wistful and heartily grungy with hushed verses paired to anthemic choruses. A wonderfully heavy, snarling synth bass supports Karen O’s impassioned vocals for the chorus. Guest singer Perfume Genius’ unique voice is used sporadically but complements Karen O well. As suggested by its title, the lyrics engage a youthful, rebellious spirit but the stuttered pacing delivers this message like it were in retrospect, as if the band are observers, and no longer performers, of a bygone zeitgeist. Spitting Off the Edge of The World, and Cool It Down’s only other single, Burning, prove Yeah Yeah Yeahs still know what it takes to pen a hit. The foundational piano chord pattern for “Burning” is likely to get stuck in your head, whilst stabbing staccato synths herald an immense chorus.
Lovebomb is a surprise turn from the opener. Its skeletal but lovely instrumental could easily have landed on a film score, but gorgeously pained vocals do enough to bring drama to the song. It’s one of a few intimate tracks on the album, displaying an impressive propensity for quietude from an outfit known for their riotous attitude. The refrain “come close, closer now” is delivered with a rawness that sounds both like an instruction and a plea. Lovebomb is a highlight but does suffer from the kind of meandering song structure that afflicts a few of these tracks. The instrumental doesn’t develop enough to justify the 5 minute run-time while Karen O’s vocals hit something of a dead-end in the second half of the song.
Blacktop arrives at a more compelling place but conversely takes its time to get there. An electronic drum pattern, simple bass progression and spare lead vocals lack the depth needed to make up for the track’s lack of energy or momentum. The song does become more filled out as it goes on and contains some of the album’s best lyrics. It fleshes out the intimacy of Lovebomb, depicting a relationship and a demand “to open, open now” to each other. Though the relationship is caging, as their “bodies lock”, Karen O sources freedom in having “sang in my chains”. Other notable tracks include Wolf which is a front-footed, synth pop banger that is likely to have widespread appeal. Different Today, meanwhile, is the catchiest, danciest song Yeah Yeah Yeahs have written yet. It is constantly shifting and segueing with a bounce, choosing to dance in response to a “world (that) keeps on spinning out of control”.
Cool It Down sees the band explore different sounds and moods. Indeed, some fans may be disappointed as thrashing guitars are traded in for decorative synths. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are no longer high octane and in your face, but among these more considered and understated songs the band restores some of their impact.