I can’t tell you how badly I’ve been itching over the past two months to write this review. Usually if an album’s older than a month I won’t touch it because this is the internet goddamnit! If you miss something by even a week, it’s dead and buried.
I’m making an exception in this case though for one simple reason: this is an album that will go down as one of rock music’s finest and as such, it doesn’t matter if I post this review now or two years from now, this album is timeless and will sound just as good then as it does now.
There’s a universal formula that you can apply to most bands almost without fail. The first album comes out rough and ready, gets a few people talking, has one or two singles but otherwise doesn’t make much of a splash. A decent producer gets a hold of the band and turns the second album multi-platinum and suddenly they’re everyone’s favourite overnight.
By album number three, the pressure’s on. The band changes its sound, loses half its fans and spirals into a dark period of drug-fuelled loathing and embarrassing moments at awards ceremonies.
Then a few years later they bang out a couple more albums that deal largely with how they kicked the drugs, how much they love their long-suffering wives and what being a dad is like, by which stage no one really gives a rat’s ass anymore.
The Black Keys are not that band. Since their debut The Big Come Up back in 2002, they have steadily gotten better and better with each successive album, continually exploring and pushing the boundaries of the blues rock genre, picking up from where legends like Robert Johnson, Junior Kimbrough, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Hendrix himself left off, fine-tuning that sound and making it their own.
Right from the first few seconds of the opening track “Everlasting Love”, the foot-tappingly infectious grooves that define this album strut confidently to the fore and make it known that what you’re listening to is fucking cool, plain and simple.
The tone throughout the album is so mind-blowingly warm and authentic, it almost sounds like you’re listening to vinyl. Not only is it blues rock the way it was meant to be played but, more importantly, it’s blues rock the way it was meant to be heard.
“Next Girl” comes on big and bold, strapping its fists like a prizefighter going into a bare-knuckle brawl which, considering the song’s written about an ex-girlfriend, speaks volumes about how expertly the duo understand and handle their material.
If you’re going through a nasty break-up, there’s a good chance “Next Girl” will instantly become the best song you’ve ever heard in your life. Auerbach’s riffs tear through the rhythm section with the kind of subtle menace every man’s felt at some stage in his life when contemplating what a bitch his ex was.
It’s poetic in its simplicity “My next girl / Will be nothing like my ex girl / I made mistakes back then / I’ll never do it again.”
It’s an album that shifts gears fluidly between upbeat, big drum, fuzzy guitar riff-laden monsters like “Howlin’ For You” to slower, more sincere blues-driven tracks like “Unknown Brother” and the awesome cover of Jerry Butler’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” (not to be confused with the Rick Astley song of the same name that’s only cool because it’s crap) and somehow manages to stay solid as a rock throughout all 15 tracks.
I usually take great joy in slating the songs that piss me off on an album, even the albums that I really love, but the honest truth here is that on Brothers there are none. Auerbach and Carney keep Brothers lean and mean, which makes for a refreshing change from albums that have three great tracks and nine shit ones thrown in as pure filler.
My expectations were set high right from the start with Brothers, and it still managed to surpass them which basically never happens.
Brothers is a sure-fire winner in my books and definitely gets my vote as the best album I’ve heard this year so far. I’m leaving you with “Next Girl” for you to decide for yourself whether this album is everything I’ve hyped it up to be.
Final Verdict: 9/10