Is ‘Maps’ Karen O, Nick Zinner and that other guy (his name is Brian, people)’s most popular composition? It seems hard to believe that anything else in their laudable recording history – four albums in total – has really come close to the bitter, middle-of-the-night love song that closes out their Very Loud debut. I didn’t know that ‘Maps’ was called ‘Maps’ for quite some time after I heard it, but it was clear that it fit the template of post-millennium rock revival songs that would burn bright forever. Other songs that fit into this category include Bloc Party‘s ‘This Modern Love’, The Strokes’ ‘Someday’ and that song by Kings Of Leon that wasn’t about gonorrhea, emblems of youth all, fluttering in the the careless winds of post-adolescence. ‘Maps’ is the heaviest, though, because it comes after no less than eight songs in which Karen O is screaming so hard that she can probably vomit on demand. The slick contrast of the razor-blades of ‘Rich’ and hot sex of ‘Black Tongue’ with the muted baseball bat to the head that is this ballad is, well, striking. It’s also painfully beautiful.
How many of us have had a time in our lives when we’ve longed to call out the choking refrain “Wait! They don’t love you like I love you” into the dark hopelessness of the night? As much as Fever To Tell was a record about donning leathers and getting plastered on the town, it was also an exploration of the difficulties in finding lasting partners in a city designed for casual encounters. It’s something that was hinted at in most of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ music, but you can hear it mapped out far better – pardon the pun – in ‘Maps’. I had the chance to talk to Jessie Ware the other night, and she mentioned that when she and Julio Bashmore were writing music together, they were aiming to write highschool prom tunes, the kind you see at the penultimate scene of of bad ’90s rom-coms when the guy watches his love interest go dancing with some linebacker who’s probably called Barry or Jack or something. ‘Maps’ is that kind of song. It has all the vital ingredients; a needling, insistent guitar line, booming, syncopated drum lines that can be readily shifted to stadiums and a chorus melody simple enough to made you sad even when you’re not trying to think about it.
This band has made great artistic strides since their first record, specifically on their last outing, It’s Blitz!, which polished up their raucousness without losing any of the grime. But in terms of taking a minimal three-piece and getting dangerously close to classic U2 torch-waving territory, they’ve never eclisped ‘Maps’. It’s the anti-song that just so happens to be one of their most loved, particularly given that Ms O toys with expectations by keeping her fire-starter of a voice deliberately coy in lower octaves until right when she needs to deploy it. There are so many opportunities for her to burst into colour, but she opts instead to swim in the greys until the right time to make a proper splash. Even with nothing but an effected guitar and drums to play with, these lithe punks still created a modern anthem. Bet they weren’t counting on that.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Maps’