'Attack' continues Black Keys' evolution
By MATT BERRY
STATIC and FEEDBACK staff writer
Things ain’t like they used to be.
The first song on The Black Keys’ fifth album, Attack & Release, is an acoustic ballad featuring an organ and soothing vocals, which oughta tell you right there that this album is markedly different than anything the band has released so far. Just as you’re settling into “All You Ever Wanted,” it reaches a thunderous crescendo, leading into the loud and raucous “I Got Mine.” That’s the Keys I know.
And that’s kind of how this album goes. It throws in elements of the band’s past catalog (blues-inspired riffs, Dan Auerbach’s fuzz guitar, Patrick Carney’s over the top skin-pounding) and blends them with things that, quite honestly, defy explanation. Those new elements are courtesy of a host of collaborators, most importantly, producer Danger Mouse.
The album, the band’s first effort at studio recording, leaves much of the raw, frenetic energy of the band’s first two albums The Big Come Up and thickfreakness. The grit of those albums has been replaced by haunting overtones provided by experimental instrumentation and ominous background vocals. “Psychotic Girl,” for example, features banjo guitar, synthesizers, and background moans reminiscent of a Black Southern backcountry gospel sermon. “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be” features background vocals by bluegrass singer Jessica Lee Mayfield, while Carney’s uncle Ralph (of Tom Waits fame) adds his woodwind expertise to several tracks. The band hasn’t completely abandoned its sound, however. “Strange Times,” “I Got Mine,” and “Same Old Thing” would sound at home on the band’s previous effort, Magic Potion.
Regardless of how much innovation the Keys and Danger Mouse introduce on the album, the important question remains: “Is it good?” Overall, the album is quite solid. It is far more complete than Potion, which suffered from its songs sounding so much like one another that the album lacked the flow that its predecessor, the band’s masterpiece Rubber Factory, perfected.
Hardcore fans may cry foul at the further steps the band has taken away from its stripped down recording process entering a (GASP!) recording studio, but it’s hard to blame the band for going in a new direction when the result is as unique and successful as Attack & Release.