ATTACK & RELEASE - The Black Keys (Nonesuch/Shock)
OK, I haven't been paying as close attention as I should have and can't tell you which song fits where on what long-player from the Akron, Ohio, duo. But I do know that I'm yet to hear anything worthless from them so far.

That something resembling an all-too-familiar hipster backlash is coming on as this, the fifth album for The Black Keys winds its way up the charts all around the world, is kind of sad but I suppose inevitable, given the circumstances.

"Attack & Release" delivers in a better way than most can when staying close to what it knows and brings in a big-name hired hand to oversee things. Which in the first part is hard 'n' heavy blues with augmentation and the odd aural oddity thrown in, and in the second is producer Danger Mouse

Employing Danger Mouse is the biggest sin a garage band (term used under advisement) could commit. Strange choice on the face of it, granted - this is the guy who steered the prefab fortunes of Gorillaz and crossed The Beatles with rap, for Chrissake - but stay with me here. If the bottom end sounds too compressed on "Strange Times", the keys seem laid on a tad too lushly on "Oceans and Streams" or the melody line too close to the top on the mellow closer "Things Ain't Like They Used To Be" - and you didn't know Danger Mouse produced them - would your opinion be the same? Me neither and for the record, the production is a strong point, so let's move along, there's nothing to see here.

I like the single, "Same Old Thing", but the rustic "Psychotic Girl" is the moody heartbeat of this record.

Yeah, I know it's just blues but so is 90 percent of what's worthwhile these days. The fact that it rocks seems to be upsetting more than a couple of people. Blues or rock, the trick is investing enough of yourself in the music and not just apeing some John Lee Hooker record (or worse, an anaemic George Thoroughgood whitebread bastardisation of same.) The one thing you can't fake in music is character and The Black Keys have that in bucketloads.

I don't care that The Black Keys sell off songs to go on the soundtrack to "Grand Theft Auto IV" because (a.) I wouldn't have noticed unless someone had told me and (b.) that soundtrack might just persuade some kid to put down that game console and go and learn two chords on a guitar. After all, that's all we can ask (or hope for) these days. - The Barman




THE BIG COME UP - The Black Keys (Alive)
Kinda like major labels and bad metal-funk bands a few years back, nowadays it seems that every indie label worth its salt has to have at least one two-piece "punk blues" aggro - the world-beating White Stripes, Immortal Lee County Killers, Soledad Brothers, etc. Now Alive Records (holder of much status in this Bar because of the yeoman work Patrick Boissel has done with his MC5 and Detroit releases) has theirs. White Stripes, Black Keys - too close for comfort? YOU decide!

So here's the Black Keys'debut, the cover all black and white (natch), with a picture inside the slick of them in full flight, guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach in mid-leap like he was Chet from the ILCK or something, Ampeg Reverberocket visible next to Patrick Carney's drumkit (and posture fit to make a mother cring)e. There's a groovy pic of an ORIGINAL Danelectro (or maybe Silvertone) guitar on the back; I remember when you usedta be able to buy those for fifty bucks in pawnshops. Nowadays you're probably talking three or four bills, thanks to this whole "punk blues" thang. Feh. In the color shot on the back of the slick, Dan looks kinda like a lapsed guitar teacher, while Patrick looks kinda like the dorkier little brother of Sam from the Mooney Suzuki.

But enough on the superficials. Mom always said that looks can be deceiving, so what's encoded in those little sectors inside this shiny silver disc? No schizoid pop vs. Son House predilections a la the White Stripes, for one thing. No prurient incest angle, tho - a distinct delta. A little more gritty, uh, AUTHENTICITY than the ILCK, too.

Although you get the impression that these boys mighta gone to the same summer camp as the Soledad Bros. Obligatory Fat Possum cover, Junior Kimbrough in this case. Somewhat novel Beatle cover ("She Said, She Said," and they do it up real R&B-worthy), which makes me puke less than the head-shaking fake-Merseybeat (with constipated guitar sounds) of this alb by a defunct Scottish band I'm supposed to be learning for an audition tomorrow night (the leader has the idea of stealing the entire repertoire of a band that no one ever heard of, especially around these parts, with an eye toward getting gigs as the opening act for these big BEATLE TRIBUTE bands; I feel so unclean, but then again, a fella's gotta eat, no?).

Pretty good, pretty gritty, and as long as the White Stripes remain the Saviours of Rock'n'Roll (this fiscal quarter, anyway), I reckon we'll be hearing some more of this stuff. Myself, I'll STILL take the ILCK for the chaos factor, feedback, and lefty politics. Gee whiz, aren't we due for another Jimi Hendrix revival soon? Be nice weather if it don't rain. Yup. - Ken Shimamoto