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When the Lights Go Down in the City

21 Aug

The Evolution of The Black Keys

17 May
The Black Keys. Such a cool pic.

The Black Keys. Such a cool pic.

On Wednesday, the day after “Turn Blue” came out, I downloaded the new album by The Black Keys, my favorite band. As each song was downloaded I felt a sense of both excitement and nervousness. Excitement to finally hear the new material by a band that I love. Nervousness because their previous album, “El Camino”, had fewer good songs than bad songs. The first single from “Turn Blue”, a song called “Fever”, was dissappointing the first time I heard it. The predominant sound on the song is the keyboard, rather than the guitar or the drums. Black Keys fans tend to like the band because they reassure us that rock and roll is not dead, that with each driving guitar riff and pounding drumbeat the anarchic spirit of rock and roll lives on. “El Camino” for me was mostly a disappointment, anchored by that bland nothing of a single, “Lonely Boy”. So what’s the verdict on “Turn Blue”?

I’ve listened to it a few times already, and I would say half of the songs are inspired, either solid rock ballads or lovely slower songs. The Black Keys have always done slow tunes quite well: one of my all-time favorites is “Keep your hands off her” from Chulahoma, the album of Junior Kimbrough covers. That song is practically a lullaby. So the title track “Turn Blue” is a highlight for me, with its lilting surf rock grooves, and those plaintive lyrics. One of the things I love the most about The Black Keys is the sexuality of their music. I have little patience for nasty rap songs that describe the mechanics in detail. That is not sexy. But to hear Dan Auerbach wail “My heart’s on fire/With a strange desire”, on “Strange Desire” conveys sexual desire better than most. The song “Turn Blue”, with its whisper of “I really don’t think you know/There could be hell/Below”, is a standout for me.

The not-so-great half of the album are throwaways, and make me wonder if this is really the best that Patrick and Dan had to offer. The last track, “Gotta Get Away”, is so forgettable. It simply doesn’t pulse with the same energy as the stronger tracks. Is this the doing of Danger Mouse? Has he carefully been smoothing out The Black Keys’ edges over the last couple of albums? One common thread in all the albums, going back to “The Big Come Up”, is the rawness of The Black Keys’ sound. And yes, it has been softened over the years, to its creative apex on “Brothers”, where they threaded the needle perfectly between mainstream success and their trademark bluesy sound. I hope that the Keys continue to innovate and evolve as they have on “Turn Blue”, yet still maintain that libidinous edge that their fans have come to know and love.

What would a post about my favorite band be without some music? As mentioned above, here is “Keep your hands off her” from “Chulahoma”:


R.E.M. “It’s the end of the world”

3 Sep

Michael Stipe makes sense of the crazy modern age- twenty years ago.

Deconstructing Adele

21 Jun


Like many people across the country, I have heard “21” by Adele streaming through my earbuds for the last few weeks. Surely I can’t be the only person, since it has been the number one album in the U.S. for the last 10 weeks. I’ve often wished that the weather matched the music. The heart-wrenching songs that make up “21”, like “Set Fire to the Rain”, are better suited to rainy days than sunny June afternoons, but still I listen, because that voice is so pure and full of feeling. It’s so nice to hear a singer who doesn’t sound like she came through the American Idol factory farm of big-voiced singers.

I have also wondered if Adele’s appeal in particular, and the appeal of the recent bumper crop of British neo-soul singers in general (Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Duffy) is the incongruence between the voice and the face.  These booming voices sound like they could come from an African-American woman, those masters of R&B, soul and gospel (Adele definitely borrows from this latter genre).  So there is a disconnect between what we expect these singers to look like and what they actually are- young, white British women. Would Adele receive all of the acclaim if she was a black woman? Or would we shrug our shoulders and say, “Just another urban singer”?

Observing the novelty of a white soul signer from North London does not take away from Adele’s talent.  She is deserving of all of her success.  But it is interesting to note that she benefits from a look that many other soul singers don’t have.