The Black Keys – Attack & Release

The Black Keys
Attack & Release

When it was first announced that super producer, Danger Mouse, would be producing Akron, Ohio duo, The Black Keys’, next album, many wondered if this would cause a mellowing in their rough and determined sound. And since they are known as a band that loves to blur the lines between funk, rock and blues; I am sure that this pronouncement caused some nervousness on even their biggest fans. Since the tandem have always mixed and recorded their albums, recruiting a producer and recording for the first time in a studio would certainly be a change of pace. However, on Attack & Release, the attention isn’t on Danger Mouse’s production but rather, on Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s impeccable musicianship.

The Keys’ blues-rock vibe is still prevalent here. All of the songs are built around 8, 12 and in some cases 16-bar blues. Slow jams like “Lies” and the tender beginning of “All You Ever Wanted” are sung by Auerbach with a soft and poignant touch. And although the latter begins the album in a reflective manner, it’s not long before the drums crash in and the guitar squeals on “I Got Mine.” Carney’s bombastic and yet effortless style is a perfect match to Auerbach’s guitar playing. Almost like a solid rhythm section, the two feed off each other and are always in-tune as to what the other is doing.

The album’s center revolves around “Remember When (Side A)” and “Remember When (Side B).” On the former, the microphone used by Auerbach recalls the feeling of listening to an old 50s radio and just hearing a blues soul singer evoking the old times. The music is atmospheric and the gentle addition of whistles gives it a great southern rock vibe. The latter starts off the second side with a much more in-your-face and harder tone. Auerbach is forceful, his guitar is scratchy, the drums are powerful and concentrated and there is even a terrific, grungy bassline added. The two songs are firmly separate and at the same time, marry the first and second half.

Often times, and though many may see it as a fault on the reviewer, certain songs are engrossingly affecting. This is the case with the last song, “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be” — the only song on the album that is written primarily by Auerbach. It’s a depressing ballad about how losing a love can both be disorderly but in the end, the best thing. The music is beautiful with a gorgeous melodic guitar line and the moving lyrics are the main attraction. Auerbach sings about how he did everything she could have possibly asked for until she said, “It doesn’t mean a thing to me/and it’s about time you see/that things ain’t like they used to be.” He is only left with his shattered emotions and loneliness and admitting to himself that, “all those happy times are gone.”

Whether it is the laid-back approach and great piano on “Psychotic Girl” or the falsetto singing, descending music and chugging guitar on “So He Won’t Break,” everything that the Keys do on Attack & Release makes for one tremendous album. Their soul is in no way hurt by the production but instead, this is one of those many times where Danger Mouse’s production has truly aided in creating a terrific album from start to finish.