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Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Shake It” Is a Pleasantly Low-Key Reminder of Fever to Tell‘s Greatness

NEW YORK - MAY 25: Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performs at the 2010 MoMA Party in the Garden benefit at The Museum of Modern Art on May 25, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

“Shake It,” a previously unreleased Yeah Yeah Yeahs song that the band dropped this week, is an outtake from Fever to Tell, their galvanizing debut album from 2003. But you don’t need me to tell you that. Just listen to the first few seconds, where Nick Zinner picks out a spindly introduction on his guitar. Each time he hits the riff’s lowest note, you can hear Brian Chase’s drum kit buzzing with sympathetic vibrations, the sound bouncing off the walls of whatever dingy studio or practice space they’re recording in, tickling the underside of his snare. The rest of the band, in other words, isn’t watching from behind some plexiglass panel as Zinner plays in a sterile isolation booth; they’re right there in the room with him, waiting to make their own noises in tandem when the time comes.

The proper album doesn’t have quite the same vérité dirtiness as “Shake It,” but it’s driven by the same impulse: to capture the sound of three people in a room, thrashing at their instruments and vocal chords with frantic abandon. In the following years, Yeah Yeah Yeahs would augment this approach with an increasingly large arsenal of guitars, keyboards, and other studio toys, an initially successful strategy that eventually led them into almost comically florid and irritating territory, on 2013’s aptly named Mosquito. “Shake It,” released in advance of luxurious Fever to Tell reissue coming next month, is more like a wolverine: fierce and compact, with a cuddly countenance it shows for just a minute or so before baring its teeth.

So why didn’t it make the album? For one thing, “Shake It” feels curiously unformed. After a killer opening lyric from Karen O–“Now shake it / North, west, south, left, east, and to the right”–it proceeds with plenty of coiled energy but no particular direction in mind, then ends in the same place it began. It might also have something to do with that cuddliness. The final stretch of Fever to Tell–beginning with the immortal “Maps”–was so devastating in part because it came after eight straight unrelentingly loud and brash punk rock songs. For most of its length, “Shake It,” is comparatively calm, and its addition may have subtly changed the character of the entire record, tipping its scales toward mellowness. “Shake It” can’t quite match the greatness of Fever to Tell, but it’s a welcome reminder of one of our era’s most exciting debuts.