Here, for Black Keys fans, is the dilemma: hold on tightly to memories of a raw blues rock or embrace the funky new, slightly R’n’B sound. If you only love the old then take two points off this albums rating.
This album is a bridge between Attack & Release, where the boys were still relatively unknown, and Brothers whereby they have become everyone’s favourite little duo. They have outlived the White Stripes, who they were compared to a lot early on, and are following them up onto arena stages for this album.
The sound to fill out the arenas is evident all over this album. Where once Dan Auerbach moaned and groaned his way through songs on his own there is a powerful backing choir on almost every chorus here. This is either a good or a bad thing depending on which kind of Black Keys fan you are.
‘Dead And Gone’, ‘Lonely Boy’ and ‘Run Right Back’ all maintain that old fuzzy blues flavour while ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ sounds like it belongs to the White Stripes. ‘Little Black Submarines’ is probably the most impressive display of growth, half acoustic and half stomping rock, it really feels like a move forward for them.
A casualty of this progression is the drums. Where once they crashed and bellowed as loud as the guitars there is now only a wet snare. Crash and ride cymbals are so far back in the mix they are pretty much useless. This is not the Black Keys way, it takes the edge off of every song because the emphasis has shifted.
If drawn by the sound of single string riffs then there will also be disappointment for you as Dan plays for a more straightforward sound (lending itself nicely to the arenas no doubt). But the swing and stomp of old still remains, boogying is still top of the agenda and if you can resist a little jig to ‘Stop Stop’ then you are probably a corpse.
For all the change one thing has remained static however and that’s the lyrics. Still fairly basic “She wants milk and honey, she wants filthy money” and they still revolve around getting the girl, losing the girl and lusting after the girl.
Critical acclaim has ruined many bands over the years (we’re looking at you Kings Of Leon) and although the Black Keys are embracing their success this feels like an attempt to stagnate expectations of their sound whilst expanding the fanbase. Maybe next time they can go back to recording rock songs in the basement.