Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Black Keys - Attack & Release

The Black Keys - Attack & Release (4/5)

The Black Keys’ latest release was originally intended as the collaborative product of DJ Dangermouse, Ike Turner, and the title band. The man responsible for “Crazy,” a couple of white Midwestern bluesmen, and the guy who almost sent Tina Turner rolling down the river was an unlikely grouping to say the least, and I for one was curious to hear the inevitable clusterfuck of an album. Unfortunately, before this marvelously disparate musical collision could get on its way Ike Turner passed away. Who knew decades of drug, alcohol, and spousal abuse could end a life so early? Ike left this plane of existence at the age of seventy-six.

I half expected a DJ Dangermouse mash up between The Black Keys and Li’l Bow Wow (or, does he go by Bow Wow now?), but thankfully Dangermouse decided to mostly stay out of the way and let the Keys do their thing. If you were to suck all the studio trickery out of Attack & Release you would still have a collection of some damn fine songs. What Dangermouse ends up doing best is accentuating the open space on the slower songs. He adds a psychedelic atmosphere that fits perfectly with the classic rock underpinnings of The Black Keys’ songwriting, which has always been a few steps closer to Cream and Hendrix than Robert Johnson.

“Same Old Thing” is perhaps the only song where it feels as if Dangermouse is unsure of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s songwriting and unleashes some unnecessary Gil Scot Heron inspired flutes just to gum up the works. The result is unfortunately more than a little distracting. Dangermouse is most effective on “Psychotic Girl,” an acid trip on the bayou that’s enhanced by wraithlike backing vocals and eerie piano notes. Auerbach provides appropriate paranoia-by-moonlight lyrics and infuses even the slower songs with a strong sense of melody, something that had been sorely missing on their previous record. While most Black Keys albums feel as if they just stop regardless of the whether the last song is an appropriate end point, here “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be” is a note perfect closer. The slow-dance pace and female backing vocals add just the right amount of effervescent heartbreak.

I’ll put myself on record as being disappointed with The Black Keys’ previous album, Magic Potion. After their superb (and still best) album, Rubber Factory, The Keys sounded listless and without momentum. The Ohioans needed a new direction. Attack & Release sounds like a true follow up to Rubber Factory, and even though I can’t help but miss their minimalism, I fully welcome their rediscovered sense of adventure.

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