The Black Keys had a very busy year in 2009. After the release of 2008's Attack & Release, guitarist and lead singer, Dan Auerbach, went on to release a solo-album, Keep It Hid, which I finally got around to buying last month, and that was basically a Black Keys album with more layers to the tracks. Drummer, Patrick Carney, released an album with a new band, Drummer, named as such because he and the other four members were drummers in other bands, but I haven't head much from that project. And then there was The Black Keys' rap/rock side project, Blackroc, which released back in November, and I completely ignored that... But despite all that other work, Dan and Patrick are back with a new, true Black Keys album, Brothers, and it's time to see how it stacks up to their previous releases.
I was left a little sour after listening to Attack & Release, not that it was overly bad, because it wasn't and there are tracks on that album I like quite a lot, but because a lot of it didn't feel like The Black Keys I knew. Perhaps it was cause of Danger Mouse's producing, as I feel that all the albums he's ever produced have a very distinct sound to them, regardless of artist, but something wasn't the same. Instead of the distinctly two-man sound I was used to, there was a lot of layering of tracks, and what I had was something different and I was left unsure. But with Brothers, the band was returning to a self-produced album, so I was hopeful that the classic sound I loved was back.
Well, it's not, so it's about time I just accept the change. The first track, "Everlasting Light," starts out completely different than any other Black Keys track before it, with Auerbach singing in falsetto for the first time. It's a bit striking at first, but it sounds great after a few listens, and there's more of it later on. "Next Girl" brings with it some heavy, swampy blues, and it's definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album, but like most tracks on the album, the layering is very apparent, and it sounds a lot like something off Auerbach's Keep It Hid than any Black Keys material.
Following those two is the only Danger Mouse produced track, "Tighten Up," and despite my semi-distaste for Attack & Release, which I mostly blame on Danger Mouse, this is actually one of the best, catchiest tracks on the album; and it has whistles and organs in the mix, which is definitely one of Danger Mouse things... "Howling For You" follows up with a stadium-style drum beat, and "She's Long Gone" as well, both are decent tracks, but nothing that overly stands out. The very Crosby, Stills and Nash sounding, "Black Mud," follows up, and is the only instrumental track on the album, and the shortest, running at 2:09.
The falsetto-y voice from earlier returns in the next track, "The Only One," in another track that definitely sounds like at least 5 people are playing despite Auerbach and Carney being the only listed musicians. After that however, the albums starts to slow down, with both "Too Afraid To Love You" and "Ten Cent Pistol," which aren't anything special, but are definitely more embaceful of the blues than the band's traditional blues-rock. "Sinister Kid" is a real jam song, and honestly just sounds like street musicians to me, I don't know why, but I just wasn't feeling this one. "The Go Getter" and "I'm Not The One" continue of the slow, boring realm, and considering this is the band's longest album, I thing both of these tracks could have been omitted and we'd of been fine.
Come the end of the album, the slack picks up. "Unknown Brother," a pure blues rock track, sound's like something off The Rubber Factory or Magic Potion, and despite some layering, sounds the closest to old Black Keys as you'll get here. Falsetto gets one last feature on the album, in the cover of "Never Gonna Give You Up," not the Rick-roll one, the Jerry Butler one made famous by Isaac Hayes. Despite it being completely different from anything else they've done before, I really liked the soul-full sound of Auerbach's voice on this track, and I wouldn't mind hearing more like this. The final track is the somber, but oh so fitting, "These Days," which works really well as a closing track, and really is the only acceptable long and slow inclusion on the album. The thing that hurts this album the most is the length, with 15 tracks and nearly an hour of music, it's the longest Black Keys' piece yet, and it just lasts too long for it's own good.
All in all, Brothers is a good album, it's not the album I would've liked to have heard when I first learned that the band was going to self-produce the albums like they did before Attack & Release, but at the same time I can somewhat embrace the band's evolution. Usually I'm very accepting of band's developing their sound, it's why I like bands like Radiohead and Blur so much, but for me The Black Keys sounded so so good when their first album released that I never wanted that sound to go away. It's still there, somewhere, but now there's just a lot more layers to it, and I'm probability just going to have to learn to like it.
Overall Score: 8.5/10