CD Review of Attack & Release by The Black Keys
Recommended if you like
The White Stripes, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Old Crow Medicine Show
Label
Nonesuch
The Black Keys:
Attack & Release

Reviewed by Jim Washington

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Y
ou know that scene in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” where an eight-year-old, tow-headed and very white Dewey sits down to play the blues for some old-timers, and when he opens his mouth to sing, the voice of a grizzled old man emerges? Of course you probably don’t, since no one saw the movie. That’s too bad, but neither here nor there at the moment.

The Black Keys’ singer and guitar player Dan Auerbach is a lot like that young Dewey Cox. To look at him you’d expect him to sound like every other bearded, long-haired, reedy-voiced indie rocker out there. Instead, Auerbach has a voice right out of an Alabama juke joint. He and drummer Patrick Carney came straight outta Akron, Ohio in the early years of this decade playing minimalist, stripped-down blues designed, simply, to stomp a mudhole in your ass. Their name, their sound and even the number of people in the group begged comparisons to that Detroit duo with the complementary tag. For most of the Black Keys’ career, the two acts could be kept distinct – they were a little more primal than Jack and Meg, a little downer, a little dirtier.

The Black Keys

Nowadays, who knows. The White Stripes’ latest effort, Icky Thump, is pretty darn nasty. And the Keys’ new disc, sorry to say, is a bit tarted up. Attack & Release is an apt title. The Keys’ music used to grab you by the throat and rock you. On this, they let go a bit.

The story behind the album, supposedly, is that they had been working with super-producer Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz, The Grey Album) on songs for an album with Ike Turner. When Turner died last year, the songs turned into a full-fledged Keys album, with Danger producing. Working with a producer has its benefits, and Attack does sound more like a studio album than their others. But that’s not really a good thing with these guys. You want the sound more in your face, as opposed to hidden behind the boards.

Still, things start out promisingly, with the Americana-tinged opener “All I Ever Wanted,” which sounds like an entirely different band at first, then kicks into high gear near the end. Things stay strong enough to keep you optimistic through the next couple of songs, especially the single “Strange Times” and the spooky “Psychotic Girl.” From there, though, with a few exceptions, the album just kind of trails off.

Maybe we’ll write this off as an interesting, and kinda cool, experiment, and then let the Keys go back to their nasty old ways. Just like Dewey Cox. (Seriously, check out the DVD.) 

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