I don’t do enough album reviews. And I rarely do contemporary album reviews because I tend to stick to singles. The Black Keys‘ Attack & Release isn’t quite contemporary – it was released in 2008, and the band recently released a new album, Brothers.
The story of how I came by The Black Keys was simply a stroke of luck. I was writing on here and a publicity person mentioned their album to me. It arrived in the post, a cardboard CD cover with scrawly pencilled handwriting on the cover. An inauspicious start.
The album came into play for me exactly this time last year, as my father was diagnosed with cancer and spent his last couple of months in hospital. I’d listen to Attack & Release driving to and from the hospital. It became that rare kind of album that got fused to an important part of my life, and even now I remember listening to those songs with tears streaming down my face, or rage in my chest at the inevitability of what was about to happen.
When you have music that’s so strongly bonded to a major event in your life, that music becomes a precious thing. You can relive moments in time through chords, riffs and melodies. Those first lines “It’s just like dying, ‘cept you can still feel the shame” take me back every time.
The standout track is surely Strange Times, an anthemic effort with spartan riffs that hits the spot on every level. Fuzzy guitars, satisfying cymbal crashes exploding on top of irresistible riffs, then descending into a haunting chorus. Dan Auerbach’s voice is commanding on those verses, almost evangelical.
It’s not all about one song though. That would be too easy. Auerbach and Carney have created an album that’s cohesive as a whole. And it’s a joy to listen to it from start to finish. Taking a very sparse blues base, the guys explore the spectrum from heavy riffing that Jack White would be proud of to odd cowboy-on-the-prairie sounds. The songs can be randomly injected with theramin-style effects or in the case of Same Old Thing…flutes.
Where things get really creative is on the middle tracks – Remember When – sides A and B. Lyrically, it’s the same song, but musically the two tracks are polar opposites. Side A is a melancholy slow blues number, while Side B blasts the cobwebs away with tight riffs and much loudness. It actually took me two months to realise that the two songs had the same lyrics.
I could go on. For me, this was an album that reawakened a passion for rock music after years of hearing the same tired ideas churned into new formations. Ironically, what the Black Keys seem to have done is taken a backward step, closer to rootsy Delta blues and come back with something fresh and exciting. And that’s before I factor in the emotional resonance of the album. It genuinely gives me chills.
Get yourself a copy of this album. You may just fall in love with it.
Strange Times (above) – I Got Mine (below) – more Black Keys on MySpace