The Black Keys – “Brothers” [CD Review]

Review: Natalie Salvo
This is a record review about The Black Keys. But you already knew that didn’t you? So while we’re giving you ‘helpful’ but unnecessary statements, “Brothers” is the sixth studio album from the Ohio-based blues-rock duo.

The pair has been rather busy as of late with guitarist, Dan Auerbach dropping a solo album while Patrick Carney produced the aptly titled side project, Drummer. The boys then collaborated with a bunch of rappers for the hip-hop record, Blakroc.

Brothers” was inspired by a road trip to Alabama’s Muscle Shoals Studios. The end result hints at the retro-sounding blues-rock of old while adding a new veneer of polish, which at times segues off on occasional tangents into areas like soul and dance music.

“Everlasting Light” sees Auerbach sing falsetto and makes you think he should appear with the Bee Gees. Musically it can be described as featuring grungy blues riffs à la The Rolling Stones while also sounding like T-Rex’s “Jeepster” meets an indie rock band. “Next Girl” takes things back a little further as it is all about Cream, love beads and the spirit of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”.

First single, “Tighten Up” is a more modern-sounding effort, where the usual purveyors of garage boogie seem to adopt the kind of twee whistling synonymous with the college rock of Vampire Weekend, et al. But no worry as “Howlin’ For You” is one crazy, freak-out sing along full of kazoo, ramshackle drums and distortion in some ways like a killer version of Jet’s own “Lazy Gun”.

Rounding out the release is the Deep Purplesque epic, “Black Mud” where the pair achieves a rather full band sound. But this is a fleeting moment because on “The Only One” The Keys seem to take on another musical duo, MGMT, and in particular the latter’s “Electric Feel”.

A cover brings things to a near close with “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Before you start worrying about the boys covering THAT Rick Astley song – the one that was fodder for a million rickroll pranks – fear not, as it is actually a cover of a song recorded by the late Isaac Hayes.

At fifteen tracks, “Brothers” is a tad long but these connoisseurs of groovy, retro-blues rock have produced another solid release that sounds both considered and effortless. There may be little in the way of innovation here but the record does successfully conjure up specific times and places in musical history – think 67 with Hendrix, Monterey and flowers in your hair through to the early 70s with Purple, Black Sabbath and stairways to heaven.

In short, these guys continue to produce the kind of blues riffs that made people declare that Clapton is God before Hendrix set his own axe on fire. It seems that Auerbach and Carney are flying the flag for the blues rock greats in 2010, perhaps not creating as many great balls of fire but still holding up a gigantic candle to these legendary musicians.