You wouldn’t be mistaken when referring to The Black Keys as one of rock’s most consistent bands. For six albums now, the Ohio-based duo has quietly created a discography that consists of some of the best blues-rock of the new century. After a quartet of albums that showcased solid and steady hands on deck, the Keys opted to have Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) produce the pair’s fifth album, Attack & Release. And although it created a unique scenario where each person could get creative and truly collaborate, there was a certain bite missing to it.
That bite, that grit that we’ve all come to love from The Black Keys was replaced with an experimental hand that added a few flutes and added arrangements to the mix. The songwriting took a bit of a dip but even with that, it was still, yet another solid release. But this time, taking a different direction, the Keys have decided to equally work together with Burton on production techniques and it’s provided them the full control to be able to give in to their inhibitions. And this time, that indulgence is a strong focus on the many different shifts in the game of love.
Through fifteen songs that all snarl with a tremendous amount of emotion and passion, Brothers glistens with a radiant sheen. Still just two members, each song packs a definite punch that always seems to hit you right in the gut. Chronicling wrong decisions, jealousy, betrayal, bitterness, fakeness and even, complete and entire heartbreak, these stories come to life behind the pair’s resolved demeanor. The opening lines of “She’s Long Gone” detail such harsh situations with Dan Auerbach singing, “She was made to blow you away,” paired with a grooving guitar lick. These are still poetically challenging words that they’re singing about, only this time, they just happen to hit that much harder.
The changes that they’ve implemented seem to make the most sense, too, with everything coming together in rousing fashion. Rather than taking a blanket approach to the production, each song has its respective engineer and producer, making for varied sounds and styles but all, of the highest quality. “Tighten Up,” the album’s lead single, is where Burton is most felt, opening the space inside of the pockets to fill it with whistles, organs, and chords that cloud the darkness of the subject matter. Here, it’s displayed through a tumbling bridge that combines clashing drums and guitar for what Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney purposely positioned. She’s playing with our emotions and “running wild” but it’s up to us to cut her loose, eventually.
What sets Brothers apart from what Attack & Release conveyed is the duo’s ability in crafting those tender moments that leave just the right amount of reflection to ponder about. Not only does “The Only One” sound like something that was written exactly with a lead female vocal in mind but it’s Auerbach’s falsetto that carries it throughout. The Chinese-like guitar trickles in the background with a shaker, while singing about that unmistakable hold she has on you. And the album’s heaviest hitter is “I’m Not the One” with its dooming pattern and even darker themes. Possible of multiple interpretations, the strongest case is for a broken lover that knows and realizes she isn’t right for him and still, keeps him wrapped around her finger. Ultimately, he realizes that it’s time to move on but after it’s too late; these aren’t stories for the faint of heart, I reckon.
That’s what this is all about: as if they’re advising us on life’s many, many battles because we’re all brothers. Whether or not you love their music, Brothers represents a champion sound for the duo, one that covers all of their best strengths onto a terrific album; you can’t ask for a better present than that.