The Black Keys – Brothers


Album

Brothers

Label

Nonesuch/Shock

Year

2010

For Fans Of

Clutch- The Roots- Blitzen Trapper

Summary

A modern take on a retro style

Rating

86 / 100

In case you overlooked it, this is indeed an album titled “Brothers” by American blues-rock duo The Black Keys. Like its deliberately blunt artwork suggests, “Brothers” is an album that sees The Black Keys withhold any fancy showmanship and instead return with a no nonsense rock record that picks up and builds on the blueprint established by their 2008 album “Attack & Release”.

The first thing many fans will notice about this album is that it’s a much more accessible listen than its predecessor, “Attack & Release”. There is a greater pop influence apparent on “Brothers” that can be traced to the duo’s hip-hop collaborative Blakrok and each member’s musical side-project between albums, including vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach’s debut solo album, “Keep It Hid”, and drummer Patrick Carney’s appropriated titled indie band Drummer. Given these different artistic ventures, it sounds as though each member has used their downtime wisely in these bands and has returned with the realisation that they are not just limited to a garage rock sound. While “Brothers” certainly doesn’t drop their retro style, it does present a more polished mix of both classic and modern musical elements.

Opener “Everlasting Light” springs forth with the same vintage fuzz and stripped back tone the band has become renowned for yet is tinged with a distinct pop sensibility. “Next Girl” follows and has a southern swagger about it that sounds as if the band sat down to jam with Clutch and took away the finished product. It has attitude, but it’s still an upbeat, infectious song that features Auerbach’s brilliant chorus of, “My next girl will be nothing like my ex girl”.

However, the album really hits its stride with “Tighten Up”, which proves to be the strongest example of the band’s newfound pop inclination. Produced by Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame), it’s an incredibly slick tune that blends the pop/hip-hop influence of Blakrok with the rock n’ roll charm of The Black Keys. When these two influences combine, they produce a radio-friendly single that will no doubt please long-term fans of the band while also earning them a new demographic of listeners.

The album progresses with the band retaining their trademark sound while also toying with other genres and influences. “Howlin’ For You” has an insanely catchy drum and guitar combo with a retro vibe, while “She’s Long Gone” serves up a blues thumper before “Black Mud” steps in with a psychedelic interlude that would have made Jimi Hendrix himself proud. The Black Keys may also catch some by surprise with the soulful “Never Gonna Give You Up”, which features some impressive vocals courtesy of a female soul vocalist.

Those left feeling uncertain about the often upbeat and poppy nature of some of the album’s early tracks can find assurance in the fact that The Black Keys still manage to deliver a decent batch of straight-up howling blues ballads throughout “Brothers”. “The Only One”, “Ten Cent Pistol” and “I’m Not The One” are all fine examples of modern blues songs that sail along pleasantly on vintage organs, silky riffs and Auerbach’s poignant vocals.

Reinforcing the stereotype of the moody blues singer, Auerbach’s lyrics on this album convey themes based around relationships (“Too Afraid To Love You”), affection (“Howlin’ For You”, “The Go Getter”) and things just not turning out the way he planned (“I’m Not The One”, “She’s Long Gone”). However, Auerbach’s tales never delve into the overly self-indulgent or beg for sympathy from the listener. Rather the lyrical content comes across as honest and blends effortlessly with the sturdy thump of their music.

Conclusion

This album delivers a warm and hearty mix of blues-rock that is spiced up by the incorporation of some new influences and the band’s desire to experiment with different genres. Like the album title suggests, they may have refined their skills separately along the way, but “Brothers” represents the duo being drawn back together much like family and subsequently harnessing this kinship to craft one of their most impressive albums yet.

Tracklisting

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

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