The first solo record from Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O is called Crush Songs, but a better title might have been Crushed Songs. These 15 truncated scraps — songlets, really — trace the jagged edges of an imperiled relationship.
Crush Songs was recorded over the late summer and fall of 2006-07, when, by rights, O should have been on the top of the world. The YYY’s second album, Show Your Bones, not only earned the band a Grammy nomination, but also was named the second-best album of the year by the NME.
But instead of reveling in the moment, she was on a journey to her own heart of darkness, resolute on not sparing herself any pain. “I felt like I had to say these things or I’d die,” O told this reporter at the time she wrote these songs “I was naked — and I felt that I had to be more vulnerable in order to be stronger.”
Things get progressively worse over the first half of the 15-song, 29-minute album. “Visits” feels like prophecy of the worst sort, in which O laments she will “never love again,” while “Beast” finds the singer poised between denial and the sort of metaphysical crisis in which Afghan Whig Gregg Dulli often lands. In fact, if you shut your eyes, it sounds like Dulli singing in a higher range.
The emotional nadir arrives exactly at the halfway point, at “Other Side,” a funereal dirge that ends with her cooing faintly, “Known by many/ Known it’s just a matter of time.” After that point, it feels as if O is on her way back, admitting her pain and then finally in “Body,” the album’s standout track, advising that you “gotta make it right for yourself/ If you love somebody, anybody/ There will always be someone else.” This is the sort of record you wished Kim Gordon had made when things started going awry with Thurston: We will never know why O decided not to release the album as she planned in 2008. Maybe it’s just a case of revenge being best served cold.