Friggin’… Soul, Man

OR, Why The Black Keys Are The Best Band Working Today

When I was sixteen or seventeen, Alex Shaw took me aside one day in the hall at our high school and told me about this insane band I just had to hear. He’d heard about them through MuchMusic’s The New Music (remember that? Back when Much played music?) Anyway, the band was two-piece from somewhere in Ohio, and they played roots-blues music like just about nobody else could.

“So, they’re The White Stripes?”

“Better than the White Stripes, man. They kill The White Stripes.”

I was intrigued, as I hated the White Stripes (actually, I’ve only recently repealed a complete ban on their music in the car.)

“Alright,” I said. “Who are they?”

“The Black Keys.”

Pause.

“Ha ha. Very funny. Black Keys, White Stripes, I get it. Fuck off.” And I walked away.

Don’t judge me too harshly; I was an idiot when I was 16. I mean, most of us are, I think, but I KNOW I was. And Alex used to have much better taste than I did. I wonder if he still does. Hey, Alex, if you read this, drop me a line, let me know what you’re listening to. I hope it doesn’t suck.

Anyway, you know The Black Keys. They’re the most interesting retro-rock group to come around in years. And I use the term ‘retro’ loosely; what they do can’t really be defined that way. They’re more like two guys picking through an abandoned tire yard or something and stitching together the various things they find–all of which have been taken from things both distinctly American and distinctly forgotten–into… something. Something vicious and furious and heartbroken all at the same time.

These guys have their finger right on the pulse of recession-era North America, that’s for sure. The ashes of American blues, country, soul and old-time r&b shoveled into a guitar case and rattled around would sound something like The Black Keys. But it probably wouldn’t be nearly as cool.

There’s something charged about the way this band does things. A tension in the restraint. You get the sense that they could both bust out into something impressive, but they seem entirely unwilling to play beyond the bare minimum of what’s required to make a song a song. This whole record feels like that, actually. ‘Rubber Factory’ is tense in a way no other album of theirs I’ve heard is. Something about when this band pulls back and DOESN’T play just hits you.

That being said, their sound’s changed somewhat in the last few years. I guess due to the rising influence of soul and old-time pop in their work, The Black Keys have tightened up the screws and taken to writing really concise, badass tunes that have somehow made it onto mainstream radio. Power to ’em, even if ‘Brothers’ isn’t quite as good as ‘Attack & Release.’

Here’s their newest video. I think it’s hilarious. Enjoy.

I don’t need to get steady; I know just how I feel

Tellin’ you to be ready, my dear.

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