Following up a recording as phenomenally successful as their sixth disc El Camino, could not have been an easy task for Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, the duo that makes up The Black Keys. The indie band has been around since 2001. They have built a substantial underground fan base over the last decade by touring small clubs, frequent independent releases, numerous festival performances and licensing deals. In 2006 the band signed with Nonsuch Records and took a big step into a wider audience. The popularity of the band has grown with each new release. In 2006, the duo also connected with Uber producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, and they have been releasing records with him in the production chair ever since. This new disc is no exception. Since the collaboration with Danger Mouse they have been nominated and won a number of Grammys. In 2013 the single Lonely Boy won the Grammy for Best Rock Song and the album El Camino won Best Rock Album. Glancing at the cover, the psychedelic imagery hints this will not be El Camino II. Since their inception, many critics have said,” the Black Keys have been offering rehashes of blues with grunge”.
This album tries to reach beyond that criticism. There is definitely a tinge of space age psychedelic and a heavy dose of introspection on this release. Lyrically the band has gone from “Hey Babe you look fine”, to “babe you done me wrong.” Dan Auerbach stated to Rolling Stone,” That the band set out to make a singles bereft headphone record.” Clearly we are not in El Camino land anymore. Which begs the question, is that a good thing? Brian Burton again produced the recording and was credited with co writing on all the new tunes. Other bands have changed their direction and been successful, can The Black Keys deliver? “Weight of Love” – A lengthy song which some people love and others strongly dislike. I am kind of neutral. It has a nice bluesy opening. This song is very reminiscence of the latest Broken Bells release. We will be returning to this topic later. “In Time” – A rocking tune with a funky cool horn motif. Great use of falsetto in the song. This song is more reminiscent of El Camino. ‘Turn Blue” – Lyrics are a bit lackluster.
Not a stand out song for me. “Fever” – This song is more like the Black Keys of yore. Great fartsy keyboard intro, a toe tapper and you can understand why it got somewhere on the charts. “Year in Review” – A bit sluggish, the song is about Auerbach’s nasty divorce. The lyric “Why you always wanna love the ones who hurt you,”… “Then break down when they desert you.” Is telling, and fulfills the intention of the song, in explaining what went wrong. “Bullet in the Brain” – Trippy sounding song. This song sticks out a bit from the rest of the pack. Nice change up about the third of way through the song. Definitely felt the influence of Burton in this song. Read (Broken Bells again?) “I let you use my gifts to back your lying lips.” “I’d rather have a bullet in the brain then for things to stay the same.” Finally a great lyric in a lyric desert. “It’s Up to You Now” – Great Bow Wow Wow like start. Drums are amazing. Kinda nice blues fusion thing.
Halfway through the song makes a great shift. Nice guitar work on this tune. “Waiting on Words” – Cool organ but wait did my IPod just switch over to the last Broken Bells release again. I actually had to check the first time I heard this song. Don’t get me wrong I love this song, but I really like Broken Bells so go figure. “10 Lovers” – Again, when did James Mercer from Broken Bells join the Black Keys. The song could have come straight from the other recent Burton produced disc. Leading me to the question is Danger Mouse starting to develop a sound he can’t break from, no matter what group he is working with, I am specifically think of the single, Invisible by U2. It’s all starting to all sound alike. “In Our Prime”- The music and lyrics remind me of the Beatles “Day in the Life”. Nice wah wah guitar. Bluesy with psychedelic feel. “Gotta Get Away” – great song if you don’t listen to the lyrics. I do not like this song, because of the very contrived lyrics.
The song is an up tempo tune at the end of a very lackluster disc. This song sounds like Lindsay Buckingham/ Fleetwood Mac circa 1980. Could not get around the lyric “I went from Xanadu to Kalamazoo just to get away from you.” Gack, why are visions of Stevie Nicks swirling around in the background coming to mind? What is the result, I somewhat liked half the disc. Seven songs were better than average radio fodder, 2 were average. You could take “Turn Blue” and ‘Gotta Get Away” and toss them in the ocean and you would never miss them. Not to beat a dead horse but four of the songs I liked, because they sounded like Broken Bells. I think that The Black Keys could have done better than what is on this disc. This is a step back after the success of El Camino, but not lethal. They tried something and I don’t think it worked. The band needs to address the problem of Danger Mouse channeling other bands sounds into The Black Keys material.
They have developed their own sound; they don’t need to be so derivative of other artists. I think the ultimate question the band needs to answer for the next effort is if they are going to continue to go introspective. If they go that direction then they need to stretch their lyric writing skills. The other choice is going back to the comfort of the “El Camino:” era. I give this recording a 4.0. If you are a fan it is worth the buy to fill out your collection. If you are new to The Black Keys don’t
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