Karen O, ‘Live From Crush Palace’ – Album Review
While playing an intimate set in L.A. last year, Karen O introduced ‘Singalong’ – a track from her debut solo effort, ‘Crush Songs’ – by revealing, “When I was just a young girl at the age of 27 – which is the new f—king 17, by the way – I wrote this song in a hotel room with my friends Jack and Dean. It was very late and we were very drunk.”
It was that in-the-moment, reckless youth that helped drive last year’s ‘Crush Songs,’ a collection of songs O wrote at the age of 27 between 2006 and 2007 (also between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2003 debut, ‘Fever to Tell,’ and its follow-up, ‘Show Your Bones.’). Emulating the crushes that inspired its 15 songs, each cut is fleeting; none of them clocking in at more than three minutes (and many not even breaking two).
Karen O recorded the songs as if she was still 27, too. Usually using no more than a crackling acoustic guitar as a backdrop to her almost-whispered vocals, the tracks are only rarely punctuated by much else.
So when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman took up a three-night, sold-out residency at Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s Masonic Lodge last September, ‘Crush Songs’ seemed to find its proper home – one we can now experience with the release of ‘Live From Crush Palace.’
While listening to ‘Crush Songs’ could feel like an intrusion into someone else’s private childhood memorabilia -- keepsakes of past relationships and broken hearts -- ‘Live From Crush Palace’ feels more like O sharing those all-too-relatable experiences and the fragility of that age with her audience, while bestowing the growth and perspective that's earned over the passing of nearly a decade.
The set of L.A. shows still manage to replicate the intimacy established on the bedroom recordings of 'Crush Songs,' but now, at 36, O can reflect on her past with the strength of clarity.
Songs like ‘Ooo,’ ‘Visits’ and ‘Comes the Night’ maintain the sweet simplicity and vulnerability of the album, but others benefit from O’s live delivery and presence. On ‘Native Korean Rock,’ O opens the song as she does on the LP, with a spoken portion announcing, “You know, growing up in these modern times ain’t easy,” before offering the sage nugget of wisdom: “No one understands / Can’t throw punches, kid, when you’re sitting on your hands.” The Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer sounds like she’s half-laughing, as if acknowledging these are the words of someone much younger and much more naïve. But there’s something valuable in O returning to her young loves and heartbreaks and offering up her reflections.
The same is true of ‘Day Go By.’ Onstage – accompanied by YYY bandmate Nick Zinner – the song transforms into a celebration, complete with vocal breaks, laughter and yelps. The performance culminates with O rejoicing, “My pain is f--king gone.”
O fills out her ‘Crush Songs’ set with ‘Hideaway’ and ‘The Moon Song,’ songs she wrote for Spike Jonze’s 2009 movie, ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ and 2013’s ‘Her,’ respectively. They fit in seamlessly, as ‘Crush Songs’ was already much in the vein of ‘The Moon Song.’
While ‘Crush Songs’ may have felt crude and incomplete, with ‘Live From Crush Palace,’ O shares just why she released the songs nearly 10 years later: There’s something to be learned from even the building blocks and starts of something else.