Every Song from Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Fever to Tell' Ranked from Worst to Best

As the band's 2003 debut turns 20, we're separating the great from the slightly less great

Photo: Kamara Morozuk

BY Trevor MorelliPublished Apr 28, 2023

A lot has changed since the early 2000s. Computers are smarter, ordering food is easier and cars drive themselves (kind of). Yeah Yeah Yeahs have changed, too. They've grown from a trio of shit-kicking art kids at the centre of New York's garage alt-rock revival to sly statesmen, capable of delivering mature, refined albums like last year's Cool It Down.

In many ways, fuzzy hooks and captivating grooves still drive Yeah Yeah Yeahs' sound, but those characteristics are most apparent on their seminal debut album, 2003's Fever to Tell, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this Saturday (April. 29). While burlier bands like the White Stripes and the Strokes often get the cred for restoring the too-cool spirit of America's rock 'n' roll past, Fever to Tell did all that and more, shot through with a strain of irrepressible wildness. It showed audiences that rock music could still be distorted and dangerous, feverish and fragile, noisy and nuanced.

Here are all 12 songs on Fever to Tell — or 11, depending on how you consider the bonus track — ranked in order.

12. "Poor Song"

A minimalist track featuring clean, droning guitars and soft vocals, "Poor Song" is about keeping your head up despite being scorned by love. Unfortunately, the tune doesn't offer up much in terms of variation or surprise. Originally a hidden song tucked away at the end of the album, the song now appears as an official album track on streaming services. Despite its monotony, Karen O's tender lament is a comforting lo-fi hug.

11. "Tick"

Perhaps the track most evocative of the garage rock scene of the early 2000s, "Tick" delivers Hives-esque riffage and sassy lyrics. "You look so good / You take your time," comments Karen O without a hint of irony. At less than two minutes, "Tick" is a great frantic blast that perhaps burns out a bit too quickly, and could have benefitted from a breakdown to enhance the payoff.

10. "Man"

"I got a man who makes me wanna kill / I got a man who makes me wanna die," Karen O declares on "Man." Guitarist Nick Zinner's bends meld perfectly with Brian Chase's crashing drums. The dynamic frontwoman tells us, "We're all gonna burn in hell" before letting out her characteristic high-pitched squeals. Not the deepest lyrics on the record, but the angst-ridden chorus feels as fresh and relevant today as it did 20 years ago.

9. "Black Tongue"

Urgency is the feeling you get when listening to "Black Tongue." Guitars and drums work in unison to create a deep wall of sound, even if it hits like a B version of the album's best tracks. Still, the trio are in the pocket, delivering memorable, raw alt-rock noise. A snotty chorus reminds the listener that, even when the music is straightforward, Karen O's lyrics are not only fiery but clever, too.

8. "Modern Romance"

"Don't hold on / Go get strong," Karen O advises on "Modern Romance". It's another track that highlights the band's softer side, with the guitars and drums toned down in favour of Karen O's vulnerable lyrics. It's a better slow jam than "Poor Song," but suffers from the same lack of variance — an issue the band would more than rectify on future albums. Karen O proclaims, "There is no modern romance" — even if the band's own success story proved to be its own sort of modern romance.

7. "Rich"

Fever to Tell opens with "Rich," a mid-tempo rocker that starts with unique keyboard tones but soon gives way to swirling, driving guitars. By the end, you're hit with a spinning tornado of noise that lets you know the band didn't come here to screw around. A bit of an odd choice to open the album with, but still one that gets your attention right away.

6. "Cold Light"

Lyrically, "Cold Light" is one of the more head-scratching tracks on the album, perhaps playing off the gimmickry the White Stripes created at the time with their brother/sister/husband/wife debate. But the song itself is catchy, bouncing from polished, intentional chords in the verses to pulsing punk beats in the choruses. If you can get over the icky lyrics, you'll hear an inventive and interesting tune.

5. "Date with the Night"

Fuzzy, distorted riffs anchor "Date with the Night," a filthy rocker that sees Karen O belt out the word "choke" more times than you can imagine. Yeah Yeah Yeahs are firing on all cylinders here. After whispering a short but sexy breakdown, the singer ramps back up and invites us to revel in her world of hedonism.

4. "Y Control"

"Y Control" establishes a deep, gruff groove right out of the gate. One of a few tunes on the album where the drums are the focus, Chase's interesting shuffle beat grounds the tune. Zinner shows off a short, shimmering guitar solo near the end, and Karen O's vocals are restrained but effective. The song earns a high rank for its strong feminist lyrics, alluding to women's ability to take back power from their male counterparts.

3. "Pin"

As soon as the sharp riffs that propel "Pin" hit your ears, you know you're in for a treat. It's a short and punchy track, primed for blasting in clubs (and later arenas) around the world. Karen O brings out her best howls for the almost indecipherable chorus. Yeah Yeah Yeahs nail the Nirvana-esque quiet-loud-quiet formula here, to great effect. "Pin" has great radio-friendly potential and, with the ability to jack up any sports crowd in a packed arena, it deserves a spot on the Fever To Tell podium.

2. "No No No"

Chase's beat is instantly catchy on "No No No." Zinner chimes in with a simple strumming pattern to complement the drums, and the song builds into a wild monster. From there, the distortion pedals come out and listeners even get a glimpse of future Yeah Yeah Yeahs ambitions with a quirky, experimental breakdown. On nearly any other album, "No No No" would be the standout pick for the top of the list

1. "Maps"

"Maps" is probably one of Yeah Yeah Yeahs best-known songs — and it's also one of their strongest. It all starts with Zinner creating a sonic atmosphere with just one note. Drums are soon layered in, and the texture is completed with chords and soaring vocals. "Wait, they don't love you like I love you" Karen O pleads, giving the tune a sorrowful but sweet tone. Fever to Tell is full of raw moments, and "Maps" specifically shows off Yeah Yeah Yeahs at their most emotionally resonant.

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