Well, the good news is that this is nowhere near as bad as the eye-cancer-inducing cover would suggest, featuring a so-obviously fake creature taken straight out of the most below B- quality of B-movies stinging a naked, plastic baby with green lips and sporting a hairdo that would suggest he just visited the science fair. That goes without mentioning the Goosebumps-styled text, which is only good in comparison to that of Kevin Shields’ equally terrible choice of color and font for m b v. You’d think that Beomsik Shimbe Shim, an animator who was tasked with the cover art, would have a basic understanding of les faux’s et les faux pas’ of his trade because this is certainly the latter. Or, you’d think that Karen O would have had the ovaries to say no.
Now, I don’t give a shit that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have shown a complete disinterest in remaking Fever to Tell. The fact of the matter is that 2003 was the last year that garage rock revival mattered; its singles “Seven Nation Army,” “Reptilia” and “Maps” were the absolute peaks of the genre that would never be reached again (minor case of hyperbole; 2006’s “You Only Live Once” is up there). The Yeah Yeah Yeahs could have opted to continue the same sound to satisfy the people carrying pickets with the words “WE WANT ‘MAPS!’” written loud and shouted proud, but those same people ironically also simultaneously laughed at the Strokes with each subsequent release for their inability to adopt in the same way the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or the White Stripes were able. Which is why I find it a little head-scratching that so many fans were turned off by the 80’s synth-pop of It’s Blitz!’s lead single and opener, “Zero.” Good music is good music, regardless of genre. And quite frankly, were I a fan of the band, I’d have been much more angry that they okay-ed “Heads Will Roll” to be mashed up-ed with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (of all things) on nobody’s favorite show Glee.
What Mosquito lacks however is good music and that is exactly my problem with it. Well; that’s an exaggerated criticism, because the band is certainly more than competent and any tracks that flirts dangerously with flaccidity is brought out by a certain much-needed element; “Under the Earth” has an operatic sound to it over a modern beat and Nick Zinner’s muscular riff effectively saves “Slave.” “These Paths” follows the electronic fascination of It’s Blitz!, and all members are on top-form, but this one drags on for too long for my taste. The much-talked about “Buried Alive” is actually nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be. Certainly, Dr. Octagon, who was prominent just under two decades prior, has no business being on a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album (or any album at all; it’s also the first time Kool Keith’s alter ego has been featured on anything). But the track plays out like a Prodigy track from The Fat of the Land, something Kool Keith has experience with, and producer James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), no stranger to the many facets of electronic music, gives him more than enough room to manoeuvre.
Elsewhere, certain tracks are brought down by some piss poor decisions. The opening measures of the title track is all sorts of obnoxious, for example, though the track manages to straighten itself afterwards, one of the most Fever to Tell-moments in their discography since Fever to Tell. I have no idea what Karen O was going for here, admitting that mosquitoes are some of the worst things in the world (seriously, what are they good for? Absolutely nothing) and contradicting herself immediately when she told Shim that she wanted the cover’s mosquito to be “sexy and beautifully gross female.” Which immediately raises questions that I don’t want to know the answer of: why is the representation of a sexy and beautifully gross female shoving its thing into the ass of a child? The track opens with her breathing the title into the microphone in her sexiest voice, but the problem is, despite the fact that mosquitoes are sort of similar to vampires (which, with True Blood and Twilight have become the latest sex craze) as they both suck blood, mosquitoes are anything but sexy. Unless you find sexually-transmitted diseases without ever having sex (not to mention other goodies like malaria) to be attractive. Elsewhere, the only thing “Area 52” has going for it is its short length, and “Always” drags on, with Karen O constantly looking for a hook instead of delivering for one.
The best moments on the album come early. “Sacrilege” is a duet of both Karen O’s vocal styles; the reflective one from “Maps,” in her “Falling for a guy / Who fell down from the sky” and the riotous one from “Pin,” in her “IN OUR BED!” Incorporating gospel choirs into rock tracks is a hit-or-miss thing (see U2’s live version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on Rattle & Hum for more proof on when it can be absolutely campy), but they pull it off here, mostly relying on the choir to pull the track to higher heights than they would’ve ever accomplished on their own. I have no clue why they decide to follow the explosive opener with one of their slowest ballads in one of the worst tracklisting moves since Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and “No Expectations” combo of Beggars Banquet. But “Subway” is fine, with its looping of the subway as its percussion as a clever driving mechanism (though Panda Bear had done the same thing years before, albeit with skateboards, but to the same effect). Despite the majority of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ discography being loud, the best is when they’re in ballad-mode, as on “Maps” or “Skeletons.” Here, “Subway” or the closing track “Wedding Song,” which originally debuted at Karen O’s wedding, prove that point. “Wedding Song” (which should’ve ditched that useless ambient intro) follows Radiohead’s “Videotape” model for an extremely stripped-away sound, relying on a simple drum machine and some piano chords. What separates this one isn’t the backstory (which I find both romantic and cheesy), but rather that Karen O actually gives us something of a melody and lyrical simplicity that most of the other songs on Mosquito lack.