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 “Every now and then I see your face from way back when and I explode,

Friends no longer egg me on, they bullshit serenade me like it’s gold, how then we’re told.

I’m praying for some laughter, maybe joy forever after ’til I die,

I’m hungry for a change, I got my fill of other’s pain, I realized,

Opened my eyes.”

-The Black Keys, In Our Prime

I titled this series “Playing On Repeat” because the music I profile here is literally playing over and over- on my phone, in my car, while I’m writing, while I’m cooking. That’s what I do when I get really excited about new music. It is the criteria for me writing about music under this banner. And that’s what I’ve been doing with the new album released by The Black Keys on Tuesday.

Dan and Pat have an impressive catalogue of music. They’ve put out great songs. Eight solid albums, each one stacked. Gritty blues songs with soulful growling vocals, hard hitting drums, and the guitar. Seriously, the guitar. Dan Auerbach is one of the best guitar players in music today. In my opinion, among the best in rock period. My favorite stuff by the band has always been their earlier stuff. The music made by just two guys. But Turn Blue may be their best album yet. And thank god, because El Camino didn’t exactly light my fire.

Turn Blue goes deeper. It is raw and charged with angst. It’s still the blues, just a slicker version of the blues. I’m a huge fan of Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) who co-produced and co-wrote this album, in addition to Attack and Release and El Camino and the single Tighten Up. And Burton’s knack, talent, genius for melding genres and styles is evident on this album. You can’t put it in one category, you can’t pinpoint one influence or sound. It’s a beautiful prism of sound.

The album starts off with Weight of Love. This song thrusts you almost immediately into a guitar solo. Seven minutes that’s more of a journey than a song. A haunting intro gives away to sweltering guitar. Then brief, poignant lyrics are  met with a torrid guitar solo. Two minutes of brilliance. The longest solo perhaps on a Keys album. This is what fans have been yearning for, needing to hear from Dan Auerbach. And he gives it to us on the opener.

The single Turn Blue, immediately brings to mind a ’70s California sunset. Just a touch of a Hotel California vibe. Dan’s vocals are some of the most versatile. At once smokey and bluesy (rappers who collaborated on BlakRoc were shocked to find out he was white) and the next an effortless falsetto. On this song it’s that falsetto that takes the reigns. The music is smooth and serves as a backdrop for the pain that emanates from the lyrics, from the vocals.

Fever is a jaunty radio friendly tryst. It’s fun. It’s sound belies the pain in the lyrics. I love the disparity. “Now if the cold pale light in your eyes reaches those horizon lines, You know not to leave her.”

It’s Up To You starts with a raucous drum, a big band sound. The song turns aggressive when the lyrics come in. The second half of the song is an insolent, dirty guitar. One of the heaviest I’ve heard on a Keys album. And it will be jaw-dropping live. My only complaint is the solo isn’t long enough. It gives you a taste but leaves you wanting more.

Strangely, my favorite song is the one that takes the focus off the guitar. Waiting On Words is about the chorus.  The layered vocals fluctuate between soft and tender to insistet and assertive . Punctuated with an off-key surf style guitar. The lilt in the chorus is stirring. It swells with emotion, the infusion of pain so vulnerable and accessible. “Goodbye, I heard you were leaving, Won’t try changing your mind, Goodbye, don’t know where you’re going. The only thing I really know, My love for you was real.”

In Our Prime is the soul. It is the gut wrenching heart-bleed of the album. The retro piano intro conjures images of a flickering old reel to reel home movie. The tape flutters off the reel as the song indicates a less than happy ending. “Pour me down the drain I disappear, like every honest thing I used to hear.” There’s no pretense, the lyrics go right to the source of the injury. The song exorcises it’s demons of being wronged before an organ fueled ramp-up. The song gives way to a guitar solo that echoes as if hearing it live. The sordid details play out via guitar strings as it eventually fades away in despair and exhaustion. It’s tragic and bewitching, the sum of it all. This is the guts on the paper, the truth and the purging. It’s real and you feel it.

(photo: Danny Clinch)

“I was a movin’ man in my younger days, But I’ve grown out of my ramblin’ ways.

I left that road so far behind, now I know, oh babe, I got mine”

-The Black Keys, I Got Mine

About 4 years ago my husband and I had tickets to go see Kings of Leon with some friends. I was looking forward to the show, thinking it would be a fun summertime outdoor concert. We settled into our seats with our overpriced draft beer and started chatting with our friends as we waited for the show to start. I was talking to my friend when the opening band started playing. I rudely stopped mid-sentence and turned towards the stage. I watched, mouth open, as two guys ripped through a gristly blues rock number. A drummer and a guitar player worked about 15 square feet of stage, surrounded by equipment covered in tarps for the headlining band. As they moved into the next song I started nudging my husband, trying to get his attention. He was engrossed in conversation with his friend and ignoring my pokes and elbows. Finally, by about the third song I punched him in the shoulder. He needed to hear this. Two guys, bare bones, no effects, no stage show, barely room to move, and a sound so rich and full and loud… I was blown away.

I had heard of The Black Keys.  I had read about them in Rolling Stone [read me], but I hadn’t really taken the time to listen to their music. I have never been more grateful to go to a show I was apathetic about. They finished their all too short set and I felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin. I was so excited about what I’d just heard, I was ready to leave before Kings of Leon even came on stage. That night when we got home I downloaded their entire catalogue.

To truly appreciate the genius that is Dan and Pat, you must see them live. We have seen them six times since then. One time was at a two day music festival with dozens of bands. I watched the people around us as the band took the stage. I watched them chatting during the first song or two of the set. I watched their faces as they began to realize what they were witnessing. I watched them nudge their friends, their heads starting to bob to the rhythm. By the closing song, even the people in line for the Porta Jons were bouncing up and down and rocking.

They close every show with “I Got Mine.” This is the best live performance I’ve ever seen. I can’t fully describe what happens to the room/arena/festival when they play this song, but two guys are up on a stage controlling a crowd. No fluff, no antics, no production. Just bad ass music. The way it should be. Watch this performance and get a taste for yourself…