Anyone surprised at the direction that Karen O’s first solo album takes has clearly not been paying very much attention. Because while it’s hugely tempting to cast the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a hedonistic, party now, worry when you’re dead kind of act, that has only ever been a part of their charm.
Every Yeah Yeah Yeahs album has had (at least) a moment of doubt, of self examination, and of sadness. From Maps to Turn Into to Skeleton to Despair, there has always been that point where the deep throating of a microphone while dressed like an explosion in a fabric factory has ceased for long enough for a cold moment of stark reality to hit. The one where you wonder how you’re going to get home, who’s going to clear up this mess or whether they really love you like I love you.
That is a question which sits at the heart of Crush Songs. Originally recorded in 2006 to 2007, during a period of romantic difficulties, it’s a series of simple, intimate, resolutely lo-fi recordings that offer a “soundtrack to an ever continuing love crusade”.
Which is a fitting description, given the majority of the work she’s done without the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has been in a cinematic space, providing music for two Spike Jonze films – the Where The Wild Things Are score and the (Oscar nominated) The Moon Song from the film Her. Crush Songs is the perfect companion to those bits of work, another pointer which suggests that O is probably one of the most introverted extroverts currently fronting a band.
Nevertheless, it is still quite a shock to find how low key Crush Songs is. Not so much low key as no key. Songs come and go, often built on little more than O’s voice and the brushed strum of an acoustic guitar, seemingly competing to see which can retreat furthest into the shadows.
There are some undoubted gems on here: On Rapt she oscillates between sighing with abject dejection (“love is soft / love’s a fucking bitch”) and asking and answering rhetorical questions with the swings that come with being in love. “Do I really need another habit like you?”, she ponders before immediately following up with both the answer and the far more pertinent question “I really need / Do you need me too?”.
Ooo is similar, more shy acoustic strums, more non existent production and more painful honesty. Body has a beat little more than someone clicking their tongue, sleigh bells and Karen O delicately harmonising with herself. Then it goes in to the the kind of scribbling, scrawled section that reminds you that yes, this was the woman who once stated that “as a fuck son / you suck” while rolling around on the floor.
Given there’s nothing else here other than her, bearing her intimate secrets on record, it sort of helps that she’s so appealing and charismatic. You feel for her. You want to tell her it will be alright. Because of that, the album has enormous appeal. The diaries readers and the diaries writers, and the broken hearted and the totally infatuated: Crush Songs has something for them all.