The first time I heard The Black Keys was on the ‘Twilight: Eclipse’ soundtrack in 2010 (yes, I’m one of those) and was instantly hooked by their raw rock and roll sound. Since then I have watched as they have dived deeper into the mainstream. Their UK tour is almost sold out, they’re currently on the front cover of Rolling Stone magazine, and they’re set to headline Coachella.
The Ohio duo seem to have emerged virtually under the radar with very little media exposure. This comes after more than a decade of creating catchy guitar riffs. The blues influenced band consists of vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney who have established a distinct garage rock style. In fact their first two albums, ‘The Big Come Up’ and ‘Thickfreakness’ were recorded in Carney’s basement after they dropped out of college.
They have come a long way since then. Through rigorous touring of small venues and frequent album releases, The Black Keys have formed an underground fan base. They had a commercial breakthrough in 2010 with their emotionally raw album ‘Brothers’ which saw the duo embracing their tough blues roots and secured them three Grammy Awards. The band has gone from playing gigs for 8 people to selling out two nights at London’s Alexandra Palace in February for 18,000 people.
The Key’s latest album, ‘El Camino’, boasts even more up-tempo rock and roll tracks, leaving you humming their infectious melodies. This rougher, tougher album, produced by Danger Mouse, draws influences from early American music and retro genres such as soul and glam rock. The band specifically mentioned The Clash and The Cramps as primary influences. It’s hard to resist the lead single ‘Lonely Boy’, with its riffed-out force, and ‘Gold on the Ceiling’, with its buzzing organ tones. A personal favourite, ‘Little Black Submarines’, starts out seemingly contrastive to the previous tracks as a chilled acoustic ballad, until halfway through you are hit with an eruption of Auerbach’s guitar and Carney’s drums in true Zeppelin style.
People seem to have become attached to The Keys for their soulful old school rock sound. However their songs are definitely better known than their faces. The unlikely stars don’t have a commercial image, more like a non-image. The artwork for Brothers was a simple black square with the words “This is an album by the Black Keys. The name of this album is Brothers”. Incidentally this became a topic of discussion and won a Grammy for best packaging.
It’s uplifting to think that in a time where rock and roll bands seem unfashionable, we have welcomed The Black Keys in open arms. They may not have created fresh sounds as such, more a fresh fusion of old sounds and their own twist on garage rock revival.