No longer a novelty, musical duos are popular in the rock scene, but one of the most notable are The Black Keys. They’ve gone nowhere but up since getting mainstream press thanks to their 2010 effort Brothers. Though they’re usually noted for their gritty blues sound, lately the band have been changing things up becoming more accessible for casual listeners. While there are traces of their former sound on this LP they mainly stick with ’70s influences that range from psychedelic to funk making for a groovy, mellow experience.
The band have some raucous songs perfect for a night of drinking, but there isn’t a lot of that here. Rather than having heavy riffs to rock out to the album is mellow. A lot of the songs are on the slow side with only a few changing things up every now and then. Things kick off with “Weight of Love,” which induces the listener with its lush sound. Already the change is apparent as the sleek bass gives off an R&B feel while the rest of the track is drenched in the psychedelic. There’s a bit of their blues sound, but this is the most you’re gonna get here. With a haunting intro and an overall somber feel, it also introduces the theme of the album: bad relationships.
It’s clear someone’s heart was broken during the making of this record as every song touches on the downside of relationships. “Waiting on Words” starts with a riff full of melancholy thanks to its stripped back sound making room for the raw emotion Auerbach gives us. To make things even sadder, the lyrics deal with letting someone go and realizing you can’t say anything to change their mind. “Bullet in the Brain” has a dark side with the line “bullet in the brain/I prefer than to remain the same” implying he’s so desperate for change, even something as violent as that would be welcomed. Even though “Gotta Get Away” sounds upbeat, with it’s John Mellencamp inspired riff, it’s a cynical song touching on how far away someone travels just to get away from a lover.
Things pick up with “It’s Up to You Now.” The buzzing guitar riff and the brash, heart pounding drums that take over the song really catches your attention, especially since so much of the music here is trance inducing. There is a point during the bridge where the music crashes and everything slows down into a psychedelic jam session, but it eventually reverts back to the former tune. “Turn Blue” is a nostalgia track; everything about it sounds vintage. Even how the track is unpolished makes it seems like it’s from a different era. With elements of ’70s rock and soul tossed in mixed with Auerbach’s crooning vocals it’s a hypnotizing song that shows the duo’s ability to expand their sound.
The band themselves said they wanted to make a “headphones record” rather than something radio friendly like their last release. They got their wish. This isn’t something you blast on a road trip (unless you’re really depressed), rather it’s a mood record. The softer sounds and soul influences coming out of songs like “10 Lovers” and “In Time” is something to put on based on how you’re feeling, whether you need to relax and unwind or you’ve just gone through a really bad break up. With the catchiest song being “Fever,” it isn’t a record to put on to jam out to and that’s not a bad thing. Making a mood record like this makes it more memorable; you can remember how the music made you feel when you first heard it. Plus, there isn’t a disappointing song to be found; it’s just a notable change for those whose favorite album may be El Camino.
Overall, the album gets 8/10. Once again The Black Keys manage to release a good record. Taking influence from ’70s soul, funk, and r&b, the duo brings a new sound and feel to their fans. Unlike their last record, there aren’t a lot of catchy, make you want to dance hits. Rather the entire mood is slow, mellow, and pretty somber. Some may not like it, others will love it. There are times when the slow vibe is too much, but as long as the mood’s right it’s not bad. Either way, the band’s willingness to expand their sound always makes their releases interesting.