Mindful perhaps of the rapidity with which yesterday’s Next Big Thing becomes today’s old news and tired formula — see the rapid rise and equally quick fall to “them again?” status of peers such as the Strokes and Franz Ferdinand — the New York trio of Nick Zinner, Brian Chase and frenetic vocalist Karen O take some radical chances on their third album, tinkering with two of the three key ingredients in their minimalist sound as Zinner shifts from his punk take on shoegazer guitar to synthesizer (or at least guitars that sound like synths) and drummer Chase hones to much more straightforward and dance-floor-friendly grooves.
Not for nothing is the cover an image of O’s hand exploding an egg. But the risky reinvention pays off, since the most galvanizing element of the band has always been O’s vocals, which can range from a seductive coo to a frightening cacophony, and because the art-punk of the early ’80s New York scene that so inspires the band was never all that far removed from the dance clubs of the same period. “Off with your head / Dance ’til you’re dead,” O demands on “Heads Will Roll,” which ranks with “Dull Life,” “Shame and Fortune” and the single “Zero” among the disc’s most frenzied moments.
Just as effective are the mellower moments, including the Krautrock nod of “Soft Shock” and the electro-balled “Dragon Queen” (which features backing vocals by Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio) and “Hysteric,” in which O sounds more content than she ever has on record (“Flow sweetly, hang heavy/You suddenly complete me,” she repeats in the choruses), indicating that this infamous wild woman of the band’s live performances has a deep well of emotions that she’s only begun to explore.