“Spitting Off The Edge Of The World” by the “Yeah Yeah Yeahs” Features Perfume Genius. The power ballad is the band’s first new song in nearly a decade, and it pings between existential dread and tremendous resistance.
Karen O is one of rock’s most colorful spitters. One of the singer’s hallmark onstage antics when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs initially burst into New York City’s music scene in the early 2000s was downing a pint of beer only to spray it back out in a fine mist, like a dragon establishing its territory. The band’s humorous and combative anarchy was wonderfully summed up in this gesture, which was immortalized in a furious blur on the cover of the vital oral history Meet Me in the Bathroom. Fever to Tell was the title of their debut album, released in 2003, and it matched the intensity of post-9/11 New York. Karen once commented about that age, “You never knew how long something was going to endure.”
Karen is still spewing two decades later, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are still around. The trio is back in rarified form on their first new song since their career low Mosquito in 2013. Karen clears her throat and sheds a tear in the face of approaching climatic catastrophe in “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” a classic YYY power ballad. It’s taken from their upcoming fifth album, Cool It Down, which takes its title from a Velvet Underground song and argues that our collective fever has spiraled out of control. “Spitting” is kicked off by the kind of horizon-expanding synths you’d expect to hear on an opus by M83 or Vangelis, with longtime producer Dave Sitek at the helm.
Karen’s speech alternates between profoundly vulnerable and abrasive, pinging between existential hopelessness and tremendous defiance. The song’s main refrain captures this internal conflict: a modest act of defiance thrown into an infinite void.
In the phantasmagoric video, everything—the nostalgia, the triumph, the eccentricity—becomes much more potent. It culminates with Karen perched on a spiky, gas-guzzling Mad Max-style limo as guest performer Perfume Genius, dressed in undead makeup fit for Beetlejuice, drives down the highway. The video concludes with a sleazy YYYY performance that harkens back to the days of filth and drool. Karen tilts her head back to spray again, and the effect is strong enough to put out a forest fire.