CD Review of Magic Potion by The Black Keys

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Magic Potion
starstarstarno starno star Label: Nonesuch
Released: 2006
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This record, even more than the Akron blues-rock duo's previous albums, is rough. Bashing drums, fuzz-on-11 guitars, the signature complicated guitar phrases that take time (and bars) to develop. It's the antithesis of the legendary pop-punk drum-and-guitar duo of a decade ago, Flat Duo Jets – who strove to refine the crashy instrumentation with an infusion of 1950s pop and rockabilly hooks. These dudes (Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach) at their heaviest – like in Magic Potion's opener "Just Got To Be" or later on in "Goodbye Babylon," make heavy, heavy music, the likes of which hasn't been heard since the 1960s and early 1970s from Steppenwolf, the Guess Who, and Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, the late-1960s lineup predating Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks' gentrification of the sound.

The Black Keys exist on the cutting edge of sparse, a distortion-laden throwback whose sound even predates the grunge revolution of Mudhoney and that one Cobain dude. As such, you have to be a lo-fi aficionado to dig the band in general, even more so with this record than before; it's as if the group decided to sound even more inaccessible now that they're on the major label after working four years to become underground darlings at Fat Possum Records.

So if you enjoyed this band in the past because of their occasional Rolling Stones-Exile blues, this record will be a disappointment. A few pop strains come through on the ballad "You're the One," and some great moments bordering on greatness of Black Sabbath's prime ("Modern Times" catches the vibe with ferocity) but for the most part, you'd think they'd lighten up and be a little easier on the ears coming out of the lo-budget indie wilderness and into the Warner Bros. fold. Not so – the Black Keys remain rough-hewn, sometimes to a fault: The opposite of selling out. The only thing "major" about Magic Potion as well as the accompanying Your Touch – The EP is the album art, which is just plain exquisite in its simplicity.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD