Akron – The New City of Brotherly Love: The Black Keys’ Brothers CD Review by Nik Havert.
Akron, Ohio doesn’t normally bring the blues to mind. You think of demolished rubber factories. Heck, you think of Devo. You don’t think of swampy boogie rock with beats you’d tap on an ice-cold longneck at your favorite honky tonk. But you should. You should because Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, otherwise known as the Black Keys, have been using their hometown’s blue-collar work ethic to be the greatest statesmen for stripped-down funky blues that American rock currently has to offer.The Black Keys’ 2010 album Brothers is not only the best blues-rock record of the year; it’s also the best collection of love songs in recent memory.
It’s no accident that the first two songs on the album, “Everlasting Light” and “Next Girl,” are mirror opposites. “Everlasting Light,” with Carney’s peanut shell-littered juke joint floor-stomping beat, is a sweaty love plea that sounds like it’s a rediscovered 78rpm record from a Memphis recording studio basement. “Next Girl” is its evil twin – a rocking kiss-off to an ex-wife and, quite frankly, one of the best singles of the year.
The mirror opposites reflect Auerbach (“Everlasting Light”) and Carney (“Next Girl”) and their successes (Auerbach is happily married) and struggles (Carney divorced while the album was being written) with love.
Love, and success and failure at it, is all over Brothers. “Tighten Up” is a great soul record in which Auerbach sings that he’ll still love his girl even though everyone’s told him love is a loser’s game. “Howlin’ for You,” which could be a great, lost New York Dolls B-side, is a happy love call to a gal who might be out of Auerbach’s league but he really doesn’t give a damn. Auerbach’s sizzling guitar work dishes out revenge for Carney’s wounded heart in “She’s Long Gone.” “The Only One” is a too-little, too-late cry from a man (Carney?) who realizes the only one who ever mattered has left the building and isn’t returning for an encore. “Too Afraid to Love” is the perfect follow-up, as Auerbach confesses that “a gentle touch and a smiling face” are tempting but he “can’t afford to lose one more teardrop” if things go bad yet again – which they do in “Ten Cent Pistol,” which tells the story of a woman getting harsh revenge for being knocked down to second place by her lover and the other woman. “The Go Getter” is a rock star’s lament about how L.A. and its bevy of pretty girls is ruining is marriage. “I’m Not the One” is an apology to a woman who thinks Auerbach (or, again, is it Carney?) is Mr. Right but he knows he’s Mr. Wrong. “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a soul song that apparently fell out of the Black Keys’ time machine after their trip to early 1960’s Detroit, is a love pledge to a cheating woman that she’ll always have a sure thing if she wants it.
Perhaps the most poignant love song on Brothers is “Unknown Brother” – in which Auerbach sings to a brother he’s never known but will meet someday. The song could be a big buddy-hug between Auerbach and Carney, who have become brothers through years of touring, self-promotion, and picking up each other every time life, and especially love, socked it to them. Brotherly love abounds on Brothers. In a time when everyone in politics, sports, and religion seem to be yelling at each other, we could use more brotherly love. Thankfully, the Black Keys’ Brothers brings it to us.
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Nik Havert is a writer, DJ, harmonica player, martial arts instructor, comic book publisher, crime fighter,music lover, cult movie enthusiast, and modern day Renaissance man. He hopes to shark cage dive sometime in the next few years and enjoys travel and good natural root beer.
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