Monday, June 07, 2010

Review: The Black Keys, Brothers

The Black Keys

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


fiona said...

tiare this is hands down the best review I've read thus far on WGTB. maybe the proliferous PERFECT youtube linkage, or the leonard cohen reference (i was really really hoping it was stranger song as i clicked the link, he did not leave you very much, no, not even laughter), but FANTASTIC. and definitely 99% agreed, the lyrics are so stale and after a few listens it's just boring, but sometimes it's just what I need: to turn my brain off and not even bo diddley off, ACTUALLY off-off. this is getting too long, but one more thing, black keys are the BEST in the go-getter (RECOMMENDED VIEWING)

blackmeasles said...

i never thought the black keys were all that thought provoking, but i agree- this one is a little to dumbed down almost to the point of distraction

Mark said...

i know i am late commenting on this but i haven't really listened to this album until today - but i have to disagree with the C

having just returned from a blues music festival in mississippi maybe i can offer some insights...

blues is not really about the lyrics at all - perhaps the reason why blues musicians get the "blues" is because they are shitty songwriters and can't express their feelings. one of my favorite groups is Cedric Burnside & lightnin' Malcolm and their lyrics are nothing short of hilarious (see: Trying Not to Pull My Gun). blues is created from driving, repetitive chords, and simple, repaetitive lyrics are also part of the game. perhaps if you are trying to avoid the lyrics (though don't expect too much if you are thinking about getting into blues, at least you can UNDERSTAND the lyrics from the black keys, which is saying something) then you could go with Black Mud, its an instrumental!

also, if you haven't seen the dinosaur puppet videos for some of the songs (Next Girl esp.) then you should check them out because they are pretty funny

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