Karen O is vulnerable, yet unpolished in ‘Crush Songs’

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“Don’t tell me that they’re all the same / because even the sound of his name / carries me over their reach / back to some golden beach where only he remains,” whispers Karen O as soft hums and guitar strums are heard in the background. “Ooo,” the first track in O’s Crush Songs, certainly sets the tone for the rest of the album. It creates a dreamy soundscape of unproduced and seemingly unrehearsed acoustic melodies with emotionally revealing and painfully relevant lyrics sung in the hushed tones of someone who has just been broken.

The songs were all written when O was about 27, during a time which, as the album’s name suggests, she “crushed a lot.” The tracks work as thematic metaphors that mirror the qualities of having a crush — intense and all-consuming, but short-lived — for only two of the 15 tracks reach past the two-minute mark. Despite the brevity of her songs, O still manages to effectively convey her feelings and thoughts through her masterfully crafted lyrics that are simple and concise but still emotionally stirring: “Love is soft / love’s a fucking bitch / do I really need another habit like you? / I really need” (“Rapt”).

But Crush Songs is not without its faults. More often than not, O ends songs almost prematurely; they feel incomplete, almost as if she had pressed the “stop record” button in the middle of the actual song. The unproduced sounds feel repetitive after several listens, and the songs begin to blend together. The songs were born from melancholy and heartbreak, and that is their main attraction: their relatable emotional rawness. But listeners used to the trademark art pop-punk, edgy sound that has come to be associated with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are left wanting more than a series of diary-esque demos.

Everything about Crush Songs is deeply intimate. From O’s handwritten note and lyrics revealing what she was going through while writing to the hand-drawn pictures that accompany certain tracks to the surprisingly powerful lyrics and the deeply personal acoustic melodies, the album’s elements work together to allow listeners to easily empathize with her despite her status as a cultural icon. The album reveals another side to O — one that is human, one that has felt what we have felt — but her performance feels too unpolished and too tame, which leaves more to be desired.

Contact Josh Gu at [email protected].