By el gringo rico | April 25th, 2010
If I had never heard of the Black Keys before, I would freakin’ love this album. It’s superbly produced indie blues rock with Danger Mouse at the helm. Fortunately, I am a hardcore Keysaholic and I know what they are capable of. No other musicians in the world can do what the Keys do to me on an almost daily basis. Older albums like “The Big Come Up,” “Thickfreakness,” and “Rubber Factory” frame the basis for my musical existence. To me, The Black Keys are everything I love about music. Unmatched hardcore garage rock blues. Their live shows send shivers down my spine. I cried for the first time in five years when I found out their new tour wasn’t coming anywhere DC. The guitar and drums of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are the soundtrack of my dreams. I dig the Black Keys. I also dig the shit out of Danger Mouse, producer of “Brothers” [see top 10 hip hoppers of decade].
It comes then with great regret that I announce my wavering opinion of this album. After four or five listens, I like the album, I really do. After all, no self-respecting band can play the exact same style of music forever, no matter how perfect or awe-inducing that sound may be (tear…). The Keys HAD to move in a new direction. And this new direction isn’t bad. Your main man Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton steps in for his second Keys album (DM also produced “Attack & Release”) and it certainly shows. Almost every song is layered with two or three guitars, all of which I have to presume are played by Dan and thus incapable of being played live. For the best examples of DM’s production quality, listen to the organ backing on “The Only One,” or the keyboards and Dan’s howls on “Too Afraid to Love You.” If anything, this album seems much more… sad… than any other Keys album. Almost every one of these songs is about heartbreak or regret. It’s a classic blues album with an incredibly distinct spin courtesy of the Mouse. The song “Sinister Kid” is one of my favorites because it has some great backing vocals (Jessica Lea Mayfield, I think) and some of the only guitar solos of the album.
So what’s my main issue with the album? It’s slow. With one or two exceptions, there are no thrashers…no raw energy. All the songs are about love gone wrong. It’s missing the classic Keys touch. The album resembles more of Dan Auerbach’s solo release “Keep it Hid” than any other past Keys album.
I suspect Keys enthusiasts like myself will have one of two reactions to the album: 1) (akin to my reaction) “But I was expecting more classic Keys!!! All I want to hear are ripping guitar solos and drums until my ears bleed.” or 2) “They had to make this album. They had to move on. They didn’t want to fall into the classic trap that musicians all too often fall into. Jack Johnson can play the same style of music forever and still sell billions of albums, but do we respect him for it? We respect musicians who evolve and push boundaries, guys like Bob Dylan who went electronic when the whole world loved him for his folksy guitar. (Not trying to compare the Black Keys to Bob Dylan here, please don’t freak out).”
To all those whose first exposure to the Keys is indeed “Brothers,” aren’t they great? If you like this album even a little bit, and wonder how these two might sound unleashed and less produced, start with disc 1 of the discography (The Big Come UP) and set yourself free….
One parting thought: maybe they were sick of the White Stripes comparisons? If anything, this album should put those comparisons to rest.