The Black Keys are on the cusp of releasing their eighth studio record, but surprisingly most people on this side of the proverbial pond are only really aware of a small section of their back catalogue.
It’s well known that bands from America really don’t need to ‘break’ Europe in order to be successful, with plenty forging fulfilling and lucrative enough careers without having taken an international flight - and for a while, it looked like The Black Keys might have done the same.
However, six records down the line they delivered Brothers which was showered with Grammies, going gold in the UK, and alongside The White Stripes they made blues rock from a garage fully crossover. Festival and arena staples since, seventh record El Camino went double-platinum and marketing companies in every territory were falling over themselves to license an Auerbach riff.
Leading up to the release of their brand new eighth studio record Turn Blue, we track the progress of The Black Keys all the way from their debut to present day, creating an essential guide for anybody new to the band without one chord of ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ in sight - after all, this is rock music, not a fucking beer advert.
In 2002 The Black Keys recorded the first of two records to be made in the basement of drummer Patrick Carney’s basement. Starting with a sample that wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip-hop record, the band unintentionally foreshadow a side project that would later become known as ‘Blakroc’, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Growled vocals, lo-fi guitar and drum fills are what The Black Keys are known and loved for, and this early release from the debut ignited a formula that would make the world a much bigger place than Akron, Ohio for the duo.
I Cry Alone
Dan Auerbach writes some of the best blues songs about heartbreak and women you’re ever likely to hear in this day and age. Less immediate than some of their other work, this is the type of tune you want to be listening to sat in a rocking chair you’ve made with your own hands, sipping on something strong and neat.
A written collaboration between Auerbach and his father, Chuck, it’s actually Carney’s drums that take front and centre here, as they would begin to do with more and more regularity going forwards. A solid attacker of his cymbals as all blues drummers should be, this is one of many examples that Partick Carney is a lot more than just a dead ringer for that one on Pointless.
Grown So Ugly
Running with the ability to turn the extremely literal in to musical pain, the third record Rubber Factory takes its name from the building it was recorded in. The opening lyrics “I put on my shoes…I tied my shoes” again may appear needlessly mundane, but are delivered in such a manner that makes them sound anything but.
A lyric such as “distant land, don’t know who I am” gives you a big enough clue to realise the band always had aspirations of becoming a much larger outfit than they started as, but I don’t think you’d catch either member admitting it.
Magic Potion was a major stepping stone for the band, seeing them sign for their current label and first major. This song is a pivotal moment on the record at its central part, and builds on a sound that has now become synonymous with the band.
“Greater men have made it here only to turn back / So cut me loose if you want, or tighten up the slack”. Dan Auerbach somehow makes the helplessness of love sound so god damn fucking manly. Where’s that rocking chair again?
Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to my favourite Black Keys record: Attack & Release. The band's fifth record, it’s delivered with all of the confidence of an act who have been afforded four album to work on their sound and grow in to their skin. Every man has been attracted to a batshit fucking crazy woman at some point in their life, and this song is the perfect soundtrack.
Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be
Breakup records are usually sold to us in compilation form around Valentines Day, overly marketed towards the female market and called something like ‘Hairbrush Hits’. Men don’t get heartbroken, or feel sorry for themselves when they do. The truth is, we do - and this is what we should listen to when it happens.
I Got Mine
Not only are they fantastic on record, but they’re different class live, too. Regulars on the American late show circuit as well as extensive tourers, they’re one of the tightest and most consistent acts going. As the legendary David Letterman says here: “that’s what I’m talking about”.
Fantastic lyrically and a perfect showcase for how underrated a lyricist Auerbach can be, this is one of the grooviest and funkiest Black Keys songs going, and they’re not adjectives I use often. There’s a guitar solo midway through that’s dripping in Queens Of The Stone Age like levels of sex - and that’s not even close to being a bad thing.
If you somehow hadn’t noticed already, The Black Keys do a roaring trade in songs about misplaced love and women. Often accused of being quite a serious duo, they clearly had their perceived reputation in mind when this video was being discussed. Taking the piss out of themselves, stereotypical rock videos and their major label status, this is a perfect example of how to create something interesting when handed a budget.
Howlin’ For You
One of the finest ways possible to open up a live show is seeing The Black Keys play this to a dancing crowd, with “da da da da” being hollered from every corner in unison. Simple yet effective, sometimes you really don’t need anything more than that.
Little Black Submarines
Perfecting a trick they used to good effect on ‘Tighten Up’ a record prior, this song starts ever so delicately, building to a crescendo lead by an insane mid-song guitar change. It may sound somewhat contrite to say so, but this song is a great example of how some of the band's best work on later records lay within the record, rather than just their initial single releases.
Lyrically inspired by Auerbach’s divorce, the song still feels resilient and musically powerful, in contrast to the more downbeat theme. Home to a solo that is more heartbreaking than the lyrics come close to being, this is a perfect closing track to El Camino, harking back to their material of old.
Run Right Back
Thematically and sonically a perfect summation of the direction of their last record, this is a song that oozes confidence.