Even if you’re not a fan of The Black Keys, it’s likely their sound is a lot more familiar than you would think. Their music is prevalent in soundtracks for film, television, and even video games. It is in this area where their music really shines, their distinctive brand of lo-fi and affected blued rock lends a certain cool-factor to almost anything, even the paramount importance of american express to a certain ketchupy olympian.
Their sixth studio album, Brothers, has this swampy, thick, blues feel in spades. “Next Girl”, the album’s second track, has a great thumping sound evocative of Led Zeppelin, but the lyrics are so dry and woolly it is almost difficult to bear. “With my next girl/ She'll be nothing like my ex-girl/ It was a painful dance/ And I got a second chance” The issue here is not that the lyrics are simple, as many great blues lyrics don’t exactly read like they could have been written by Leonard Cohen after a great books colloquium, it’s that they are painfully insipid. Many Blues greats had simple lyrics, but a great Blues song, as understated as its lyrics may be, conveys real feeling, like Bo Diddley’s Dearest Darling: “I once had a heart/So trill and true/ But now it's gone/ From me to you/Take care of it/ Like I have done/ For you have two hearts/ And I have none.” Any feeling that may have inspired much of Brothers has been suffocated by banality.
Now maybe I’m missing the point, maybe the threadbare cliches that makeup the lyrics are intentionally lacking in order to allow the beats to shine, but if you’re inclined to thinking, this album may leave you fairly bored. Humming organ and gauzy, wistful vocals in “The Only One” provide a noted change from the harder bluesy rock The Black Keys are known for. But again the lyrics, like “I'm so wrapped up in your gaze/Hoping this is just a phaze” leave more than a little something to be desired. Other highlights include Jerry Butler cover “Never Give You Up” and “Too Afraid To Love You” (who doesn’t love a little harpsichord?). The high-point is definitely Dangermouse produced “Tighten Up” which is destined to become a summer driving/boating/anything anthem (like most summer anthems, Tighten up is not lacking in the whistling department).
I wouldn’t write off Brothers as a complete loss, The Black Keys are indisputably adept musicians and their smoky, gritty sound will make whatever you choose to do with your summer feel at least 10% cooler, as long as you’re not paying too much attention to the stale and unimaginative lyrics.
-- Tiare Dunlap