“Are you,” I stammer, incredulously, “are you seeing this video?” My mouth peels into a question mark. My eyebrows become so furrowed that they turn into a cat’s cradle. I’m watching MTV2. The receiver of a cell phone pressed against my cheek like a hot iron to a dress shirt. “Yeah,” the unfettered voice on the other line responds. “It’s the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs video.” She answers me with the nonchalant directness of someone stuffing a store receipt into their pocket. “But this thing is sick,” I assert, trying to bring her to my side of a frantic and harried mind. There’s dead air on the phone. I can tell she is immune to Karen O’s theatrical arm jutting. I sigh loudly once more as the singer’s feet stomp through the squalor like a bandleader dotting the i at an Ohio State football game.
That was thirteen – wait, nearly fourteen – years ago. I can still hear the wet saliva-slopped sounds of paint rollers splotching against walls. Karen O, violently awaking from a vampiric slumber. Her eyes wider than an anime version of Zoey Deschanel. Her face covered in the type of makeup that Diane Lane wore in “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains”. And then there’s the Wes Craven-like images of axes being pulled through darkly lit hallways. Spike Jonze directed this video as if he was filming a cutscene for Twisted Metal 2. Meanwhile, Nick Zinner looks like 1980s Jim Jarmusch. Oh, yeah, and a kid willingly gets his hand lopped off by a whooshing blade. That ol’ early aughts carnage.
How the fuck did this get played – or made, for that matter – in 2003? In a year where Matchbox 20, Santana, and Train poured over the airwaves in spades. Here is a dejected Michelle Branch singing about “The Game of Love” followed by the profane Tesla coils of “Y Control”, where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs gut a child and level a wall with a sledgehammer. That silky smooth transition feels as nice as a Bob Ross sky.
But “Y Control” – and the entire Fever to Tell album – was ahead of its time. It still is. Karen O punts skulls and waltzes around like a version of Patti Smith made entirely out of rattlesnakes. “WE’RE ALL GONNA ROT IN HELL,” she bays into a quivering microphone, before doing a vaudevillian dance number. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were sinister. For a moment in 2003, mainstream music wasn’t safe. Fear was fun.
Ah, the old guy musings of burned earth and atonal screaming on television.