The Black Keys - Brothers - Review
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critics' view

This über-hip alt-blues/rock duo from Ohio has packed a lot into the decade they’ve spent together. Their songs have cropped up in an impressive array of recent film, video game and TV soundtracks, and apart from several side projects, Brothers is their sixth full-length album.

This time around, Dan Auerbach (guitars, bass, keyboards, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums, keyboards) have shared most of the production with Mark Neill and, on Tighten Up, their old associate Danger Mouse. The results make it one of the year’s more playfully interesting sounding albums, full of intriguing detail and inventiveness.

That’s just as well, since these dudes don’t often stray far from the lyrical clichés (“There’s nothing worse in the world / Than payback from a jealous girl”) typical of the various genres they pillage. Even if they do thankfully eschew 12-bar boredom.

Everlasting Light is a winning opener, like a twisted hybrid of T. Rex’s Mambo Sun and The Beatles’ Come Together, topped with Auerbach’s falsetto vocal. The sounds of the 70s also permeate the White Stripes-flavoured hoodoo stomp of Howlin’ for You; Carney’s thumping cave-man beats are an unholy marriage of the Glitter Band and Butthole Surfers.

Auerbach delights in a dizzying array of fuzzed-out guitar treatments throughout, and although he can be satisfyingly brutal, Carney doesn’t over-play his kit and sprinkles in subtle percussive effects. Like the phased (or flanged) drum sound on The Only One, the insistent maracas on Ten Cent Pistol and what sounds suspiciously like sleigh bells on Unknown Brother. It also seems as if some of the flavour of last year’s Blakroc project (with hip hoppers Mos Def, various Wu-Tang Clan members et al.) has rubbed off on the rhythms and spooky keys of Too Afraid to Love You.

On a more soulful tip, the respectful cover of the Jerry Butler hit Never Gonna Give You Up sits well amongst the original material, of which Tighten Up is another nod to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where much of the album was recorded.

I’m Not the One features Auerbach’s most obvious Jimi Hendrix mannerisms, while the lovely, subdued closer These Days recalls Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross, as well as showcasing one of Auerbach’s more melodic, crooning vocal personae. Brimful of air guitar moments and other guilty pleasures, Brothers is pleasingly diverse and diverting, with barely a duff track.

Jon Lusk
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