The new face of rock ‘n’ roll

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs give love a bad name.

Kate Silver

Every musical movement needs an icon, whether it’s a pretty face, a pouty pair of lips or a Warhol portrait. Jagger sashayed his way to the forefront of the British invasion. Cash flipped his middle finger at the establishment, upholding working-class values. Today, a T-shirt depicting his outlaw stance can be bought at the mall. The punks might have appeared iconoclastic, unless you consider Sid Vicious’ famous mustard-smeared “I’m a Mess” photograph iconic. Unintentionally, his sneer launched more punk picture-postcards than Elvis Costello’s cocky “My aim is true” pose.

By smearing lipstick and eyeliner on her face instead of condiments, Karen “O” of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs became the face of “Yes New York.” This designation represents not only a recent benefit compilation, but also a group of like-minded New York bands (The Rapture and The Strokes among them) with one foot in the door of CBGB’s and another in “Vice.” “Yes New York” (Atlantic) is an alternate take on the 1978 Brian Eno-produced “No New York” (Island), which famously encapsulated the heavily jazz-influenced No Wave scene (itself a reaction to punk). Although the trio does not appear on the compilation, guitarist Nick Zinner snapped the cover photo.

While DNA and John Lurie might not register within the public consciousness beyond a few entries in the “Rock Snob’s Dictionary” (courtesy of Vanity Fair magazine), Karen “O,” her anti-fashion plate band mates and compatriots ruminate on their forebears beautifully damaged sound and make it pop. But don’t call the Yeah Yeah Yeahs pop stars just yet. The group’s major-label full-length “Fever to Tell” (Interscope) finds Karen “O” – Amazon china doll that she is – feeling vulnerable. While their eponymous debut EP found the self-proclaimed “Art Star” taunting, “As a fuck, boy you suck,” “Fever to Tell’s” “Y Control” is far more self-conscious. Karen “O” croons, “Oh so all my lovin’ go’s/under the fog, fog, fog/and I will leave them all/well I’m just a poor little baby/cause well I believe them all.” Meanwhile, Zinner slows his ferocious solitary guitar to a voluminous even-flow, like molten lava in lieu of “O’s” eruption. Karen “O” also laments love’s absence in “Modern Romance” like Norma Desmond tearing all over an “I Love the NME” T-shirt. “There is no modern romance,” she said. This is the modern world – love has moved beyond Walt Whitman and into an age of right-clicking and high-speed connection. Calling all post-modern Romeos: Karen “O” is your icon.