On Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer/pianist Karen O’s debut solo album, Crush Songs, she replaces the heavily produced experimental sounds of her group’s last album, Mosquito, with subtle acoustic guitar strums and love-themed lyrics.
The album plays through as a relationship between Karen O and a disgruntled back-and-forth lover, and though the album doesn’t follow a clear narrative, it clearly was inspired by the songwriter’s frustrations with the opposite sex. “Do I really need/another habit like/you are really me/Do you need me too?” she sings over simple guitar chords on the album’s lead single, “Rapt.”
My advice to someone who interprets the title as an album that will challenge your beliefs on love, relationships, and sex, look elsewhere. Though Karen O’s lo-fi production undoubtedly gives the album a distinct and offbeat sound, Crush Songs sounds more like a collection of unpolished and underworked demos. Not a single song clocks in over three minutes, making the song structure of the album seem rushed and not very clean. All the songs are accompanied by simplistic guitar chords, and the few songs that do feature harmonies sound distant and emotionless.
The song crafting abilities of Karen O definitely show throughout the album; she exercises her solo creative freedom through her lyricism and tone of production. On the song “Body,” she moves away from conventional accompanying instruments by clicking her tongue over the guitar and utilizing Christmas bells over her falsetto croons. This song, my personal favorite, also features some of the patented Karen O screams, a breath of fresh air from the the album’s overall stale tone. Basically, it’s the only song that sounds different from the others. It sounds like Karen O gave a crap.
As a debut solo album, Crush Songs doesn’t do much for the listener. There’s a grey area between overproduced and underproduced, where an artist can add different tones and wrinkles throughout the album; with Crush Songs, Karen O opts for the intimate sounds of a guitar strumming simple chords. As a listener, I was underwhelmed, hoping for there to be one kickass song that I could add to a playlist of mine.
If you’re really bummed about a relationship, this album could find the heartstrings to tug on. On “Visits,” she sings “Cold, let her walk away/Young, never love again,” harking back to a high school romance gone horribly awry. But she doesn’t choose to dig deeper than that; she instead chooses to repeat the lines “I don’t/I don’t/I don’t know” to a simple drum beat to close out the song. We don’t know either, Karen O. For an album with two lovers in embrace on the cover and a heart drawn next to the album title, the emotional and intimate lyrics never seemed to strike and hit hard at the emotional core of the struggles of modern-day love. These songs won’t ignite one of those all too familiar 2 a.m. phone calls to an ex.
Perhaps that’s the issue. On her own website, Karen O stated that these songs were written during 2005, when she “wasn’t sure that she’d fall in love again.” Instead of a comprehensive look at relationships, we get a narrow view into one point of Karen O’s life, and it shows.
Traditional and long-time fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs will appreciate the singer’s commitment to a cohesive sound, but will be disappointed with the lack of adventurism in the album. At times, it even seemed bored, or tired; the one minute chunk of no noise following the hopeful jam “Native Korean Rock” just seemed like an excuse for artistic liberty. Karen O could have given just given us a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album under a different name, so the change of direction and pace can be understood. But this is an album that doesn’t challenge the listener sonically at all, and in that, it is flawed.