Show Your Bones


Band: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Album: Show Your Bones
Best song: “Phenomena.”
Worst song: “Honey Bear.”

I’ve told this story before, most assuredly, in this or another space, but it’s always worth repeating. During the fall of my freshman year of college (1999, for those following), Eric Bachmann, Superchunk and Guided by Voices played a show at the local club in town. I was trying too get in with the radio people, so I naturally attended said show and promptly looked for radio people with whom to cozy up. While Bachmann was finishing up his set, John — one of the people to whom I look up and someone I idolized at the time — said something to me that I found outstandingly smart.

“Both these bands have been playing the same song for 15 years. I just like the Superchunk song better.”

I think about this a lot. The difference between a band with a certain “sound” and one that “plays the same song” is minimal. Indeed, there are scores of bands that play the same song over and over and over (Superchunk, GBV, Neil Young, AC/DC, ZZ Top, etc.), but it could just as easily be argued that each has its own sound. AC/DC changed minimally, for example, with the different singers. Is that a bad thing? Most every Superchunk song begins with a guitar noodling, poppy three-chord thing. Then, Mac’s voice chimes in.

I’d say it’s not the most terrible thing in the world, but it’s boring. That’s certainly true.

Some changes are rapid and some are slow to take. In episodic television, the addition or subtraction of a character makes it such that a series will shift dramatically and quickly. Other shows tend to change more slowly. The American version of The Office is a widely popular show that’s an example of the latter. The show’s first few seasons were considerably different

(Yes, I realize that storytelling is very different than songwriting/recording. Shows run out of ideas, can’t tell the same story again, etc. But, my point remains: Some changes are quick, some are gradual.)

This, I think, is an unsung reason as to why The Wire is such a widely — and deservedly so — praised so. While not the only reason, the show’s ability to contain and expand on its characters, settings and themes within different confines (i.e. seasons) is akin to a series of novels. Indeed, each season is self-contained within a theme (the first being an introduction to the show, the second being the docks on the harbor/white working class, the third being the internal machinations of the Barksdale operation, etc.), while expanding on the various characters we know and love.

This method of television storytelling is not completely new — even Seinfeld did season-long arcs — but it was never as well-constructed as David Simon and company were able to create in The Wire. Each season wraps up — not necessarily in a positive way, of course — by the end of the season. It’s very satisfying, while still constructing interesting, relevant stories with a point of view.

I always love it when bands flex their proverbial musical muscles on different albums. I like concept albums because I tend prefer artists working within certain confines. The most spastic stuff is the most inconsistent for the listener (upon my ears, at least) and that makes for difficult listening. The best records are those that build on a theme, while adding, detracting, etc. And the best bands are the ones that can use different albums to work on different themes.

Show Your Bones is an example of that. While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I do appreciate that the band tries to change up its sound on each record.

Fever to Tell, the album before Show Your Bones and the band’s breakout, had a certain sound. The band clearly, upon recording Show Your Bones, had little interest in sounding like the same band that created Fever to Tell. I appreciate that.

“Phenomena” and “Gold Lion,” the record’s two great songs, have a similar sound. It’s a lovely sound, no doubt, but it’s similar. On Show Your Bones, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs produce a sound that does not range crazily, but it is an excellent sound for the band.

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