"Brothers" by The Black Keys

The Black Keys
Brothers

Nonesuch
2010

Review

The Black Keys have made an album that is closer to their Blues origins, but that has retained some semblance of the accessibility that Danger Mouse injected into their sound in 2008.

Man it's late. Everyone in the house is asleep. As well they should be! It's freaking THURSDAY. I'm not sure why, but it seems that Thursday is going out night in LA. But dear reader, yours truly is here up late sitting in the dark listening to The Black Keys for the purposes of review. I have created a monster named Sonink, and the monster must be fed as if it were some giant venus fly-trap facsimile. Just call me Semour, and you - dear reader - yes you are the giant shop at the center of my little shop of horrors that I must feed. Ok, maybe that is all a bit much. Too much hyperbole where such embellishment is unnecessary...maybe it's just these BLUES getting to me. Well - not specifically the Blues themselves, but something very close to it. That's what I get listening to the latest from the Black Keys, "Brothers" - it is called. And with it comes with a simplistic "truth in marketing" cover. In fact, that cover is pretty darned funny. I mean, it's about as generic as that white bottle with black letters that read "Vodka" in the discount section of your local drug store. So one would expect that the music itself would be as equally as tongue-in-cheek as the (artistically challenged) album cover, would they not?

So what of the music itself? Well, allow me to bring myself out of my self-imposed melancholy (life is pretty good, actually) and focus on the music itself. Let me preface this by saying that I love the music of The Black Keys. Up until their last album though - 2008's collaboration with Danger Mouse, "Attack and Release" - these guys were a modern Blues band. Then DM got his hands on them and made them sound like, well, like a Rock Band...like something that an adventurous DJ on mainstream radio might venture to play at 3:14 in the a.m. (Saturday morning) So did that carry over this time? Do I need to answer that? I just spend an entire paragraph explaining how I had the Blues because I was listening to this record and then followed it up by telling you that life was pretty good, did I not? So let's see, life was good, then I put this on and felt down...so I wonder if this album is a peppy affair?

(...for those that failed the reading comprehension part of the SAT, the answer is "NO"...that is "C" on your scantron)

The Black Keys - Danger Mouse = A Rock band that has heavy (and I mean, heavy) blues trappings. Despite all my sarcasm and meandering in this here review, I did in fact enjoy this album. True, it is heavier on the Blues influence than it's predecessor. That doesn't make it bad. In fact, just because it isn't as peppy as "Attack and Release" does not mean that it is anywhere near as depressing as "Chuluhoma" (an album that one friend of mine described as making them "Sad beyond belief"). In fact, this album is their most upbeat if you remove "Attack and Release" from the equation. I think this is a fair evolution of the Blues sound that the band has become known for as it moves closer to being about as close to a Rock record as this duo can possibly stretch their sound to without adding - say - a DJ or a screaming shoegazer to the mix.

Let's get specific, there is a cover of "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Jerry Butler (a song that has been killed by numerous superfluous Hip-Hop covers) that is the band stretching the Blues to cover Soul music that is just amazing. Now, this song represents the extreme end of the Blues sound being bent in a manner that Rock music would almost never dare to stretch. Then in the middle of the spectrum you get the brilliantly marketed track "Next Girl" - which to me bends the Blues to be more Rock-like. In fact, most of the songs here are in this vain. So I would say, if you don't love "Next Girl", then this album is probably not for you. But to skip on this is deprive youself of a few gems...

It is when the stretching of what the band is good at ends, and when we just get some straight up Blues tracks that the album really soars. In particular "She's Long Gone", "Black Mud", and "Ten Cent Pistol" will stand up against any of the best tracks that this band has ever released. Just. Listen. To these tracks. Ok, so this is Blues music made with a Rock and Roll sensability but damn, I mean, how the heck else are you supposed to sell this stuff? You have to wrap it up in a nice marketable package. Well, if Danger Mouse made the band too accessible for your tastes, then know that this Blues-heavy band is gone back a few steps to a more Blues-heavy sound in a way that still progresses their sound forward just a tad to the extent where fans of modern Rock might be able to meet them half-way. Just, you know, don't me already down in the dumps to start with (so stay away from this Cleveland).

4.000 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Everlasting Light (03:24) 3
2. Next Girl (03:18) 4
3. Tighten Up (03:31) 4
4. Howlin' for You (03:12) 4
5. She's Long Gone (03:06) 5
6. Black Mud (02:09) 5
7. The Only One (05:00) 4
8. Too Afraid to Love You (03:25) 4
9. Ten Cent Pistol (04:29) 5
10. Sinister Kid (03:45) 4
11. The Go Getter (03:37) 3
12. I'm Not the One (03:49) 3
13. Unknown Brother (04:00) 4
14. Never Gonna Give You Up (03:39) 5
15. These Days (05:12) 3