The Black Keys – Brothers

Brothers (2010)

A

1. Everlasting Light 2. Next Girl 3. Tighten Up 4. Howlin’ For You 5. She’s Long Gone 6. Black Mud 7. The Only One 8. Too Afraid To Love You 9. Ten Cent Pistol 10. Sinister Kid 11. The Go Getter 12. I’m Not The One 13. Unknown Brother 14. Never Gonna Give You Up 15. These Days

 

The Keys rediscover their inner black people and channel their badass thumpalicious funky butts to a couple of grammy wins. Dan and Pat were simply in the right place at the right time with this one – the time being the current era of the neo-soul radio hit (unless Amy Winehouse’s induction into the 27 Club and motherfucking “Born This Way” in tandem signal its death knell, paving the way for Euro-disco to rule the airwaves once again). Yup, on just about every radio playlist in the country in 2010, bumping up against Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” (truly one of the best pop songs of the last several years) and whatever was coming out of Dadele or Aduffy or whichever fuckable British blue-eyed songstress was in vogue last year, was the whistle-happy “Tighten Up,” in its wake turning the boys from Akron into practically household names. And they didn’t even need a major label!

Nope, all they needed for this one was Da Funk, and in order to access such fabled mystical powers, they went straight to the source – Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the forgotten third soul capital of the world. It gets less glory than Motown or Memphis but birthed crucial 60’s and 70’s records from the Staple Singers, Percy Sledge, Aretha and others (including the Stones, who cut “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” there). Not to mention the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, aka the Swampers, Ronnie Van Zandt’s favorite house band. And though Dan and Pat may have found themselves “walking around with a bag of Funyuns,” disillusioned with the creaky state of that unassuming cinderblock hut on the side of the highway, they also discovered some magic left in those old walls.

Well, they must’ve gotten real comfortable building songs from the rhythm section up with that hippity-hoppity stuff, because the first thing that jumps to my mind when listening to this album is, “gee, for a band with no bass player, they sure use a lot of bass.” This is a groove record, and those chunky guitar riffs we’ve grown to know and love are mostly MIA. Apparently this was enough to make a few of the more puritanical older fans jump ship, but seeing as the band gained some new ones back pretty much tenfold, they can’t be too sorely missed. As for me, well, yeah, I love “10 A.M. Automatic” and “Thickfreakness” and “I Got Mine” and all their other guitarical adventures, but I know a good funkdown when I hear it, so I’m going all in on this new direction shit. Besides, it’s not like there’s no straight up rock music on this thing! There’s plenty! Check out the thumping, swampy “Next Girl,” which won hearts with its sympathetic lyrics about Patrick’s dirty no-good whore of an ex-wife and its awesome music video featuring a pimpin’ dinosaur puppet named Frank! Or “She’s Long Gone,” which is all tough, bluesy, wailing guitars! Or, for goodness sake, “Howlin’ For You,” which has a drum into that sounds like Gary fucking Glitter! I’m serious! Everyone’s favorite basketball game anthem writin’, child-molestin’ rocker! Then there’s “Tighten Up,” which kind of splits the difference… I wouldn’t call it a timeless single exactly, but it’s an excellent reflection of the soul inflections that have shown up in various types of popular songs in recent years. I’m guessing that’s just what they were going for, seeing as it was the only song on the album produced by Danger Mouse in his Brooklyn studio and was written and recorded with the express purpose of getting on the radio. Well, good job guys. It just goes to show, trying to write hits isn’t such a bad thing. When good bands do it, they often come up with songs that don’t make me want to shoot myself after hearing it on the radio ten times a day. And the world needs more of that.

The first third of the record contains most of its hard rocking quotient, while the rest of the record is mostly trippy soul jams with organs and funky basslines swirling around your headphones in a highly pleasing manner. They do intermittently toss in a couple of rockers to keep too many slow tempos from appearing back to back, and they’re good. “Sinister Kid” is plenty funky, but it also rocks thoroughly – when that slide guitar first comes in, I swear it sounds like a human voice for a second. Incredible. Just another example of how Dan is a master of guitar economy – he can provoke so much power and grit from just a few notes. The buoyant “Unknown Brother” is another winner, and a song I feel often gets overlooked on this record.

But even if they didn’t bother to hike up the tempo at all on the back end of the album, my interest would still be held, thanks in large part to Dan’s singing, which is just stunning throughout. His evolution as a vocalist has been incredible – the vocals used to be almost an afterthought on Black Keys songs, but have now become a focal point. He reveals a smooth as hell falsetto ability on the opening electro-funk march “Everlasting Light” and the pleading ballad “The Only One,” easily two of the best songs on the album, but I can’t begin to imagine them working as well as they do without that falsetto. He even holds his own on a carbon copy cover of Jerry Butler’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” (indeed, sadly, it is not what would surely be one of the most brilliant and elaborate Rick Rolls of all time, as I had hoped when I first read the tracklist). I guess he just found his wheelhouse with the soul thing, and gave it all he’s got.

At 15 tracks and 55 minutes, is Brothers a tad overlong? Nah. It’s a mood record, so I’d hesitate to knock anything off without disrupting the flow (though I suppose I wouldn’t mind if “The Go Getter” wasn’t on here). And if you ever get tired of the music, you can just play with the CD, which is heat sensitive and changes colors when you play it (I know, I know… I admit it. I’m a dinosaur. I actually own a CD)! How cool is that! Maybe I just have the mind of a 3 year old and thus am entertained by things that change colors. Or maybe I think it’s just one more reason to recommend a record that doesn’t need any more reason than what comes out of its grooves.

(Shit, did I really just make a vinyl reference? I’m not actually 57 years old, I swear. You gotta believe me!)



One Comment

  1. jim budke wrote:

    Sinister Kid is undoubtedly the best track. Oh and being a puritanical older fan I did not “jump ship”


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