Karen O, ‘Crush Songs’ – Album Review
There’s something befitting about the title of ‘Crush Songs,’ and not entirely in the way Karen O intended. Clocking in at just under 26 minutes, the solo debut from the flamboyant frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is comprised entirely of lo-fi bedroom recordings she wrote and laid down alone when she was 27 -- just as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were rapidly ascending the indie ranks on the burgeoning success of their 2007 sophomore full-length, ‘Show Your Bones.’
According to Karen O (known to her mom and the U.S. government as 35-year-old Karen Orzolek), each of the 15 tracks on ‘Crush Songs’ (minus a cover of the Doors’ ‘Indian Summer’ and 'King,' an homage to the late Michael Jackson) revolve very literally around the singer’s once pervasive predilection for romantic infatuations. But each is under three minutes long with 11 less than two minutes and one (‘NYC Baby’) at just 56 seconds long. The result is a compendium of songs that resemble actual crushes more than long-lasting relationships -- in some cases not fully formed, barely cohesive or more like a fragile idea than a completed thought.
Still, there’s an undeniable sense of heart-wrenching beauty throughout, and a constant thread of soul-baring confessionalism that makes it overwhelmingly obvious that Karen O never originally intended to release these songs -- or ever even let anyone else hear them. That’s what makes them immediately relevant to anyone who has ever felt any of the euphoric highs or chest-hollowing lows of love.
Slightly in the same opened vein of ‘The Moon Song’ -- the Oscar-nominated song Karen O wrote and performed for Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ -- the cuts on ‘Crush Songs’ straddle a line between twee and stark poignancy, although the production is obviously far more rough and intimate as many of the versions that appear on the album were recorded during only the second time Karen O played them.
Most feature just vocals (sometimes whispered, sometimes screamed) over sparse acoustic guitar (like the opener ‘Ooo’ and Eastern-tinged lead single, ‘Rapt’) and some are even more sparse (‘Comes the Night’ has just one single acoustic guitar string plucked over and over) while others (‘So Far’ and the almost upbeat ‘Day Go By’) feel slightly more musical.
The lyrical focus shifts throughout as it follows Karen O’s meandering stream of consciousness, so it’s difficult to derive an overall thesis or message on the subject matter, but if Karen O had any answers about love, none of these songs would have ever come to be. Although lines from ‘Comes the Night’ are engraved on the wedding bands she shares with her husband, director Barney Clay, it is lyrics from ‘Body’ that could provide the most sound advice on the album and also reflect why it exists at all: “If you love somebody / Anybody / There will always be someone else / So make it right for yourself.”