August 25, 2010

Released in May, the video for “Tighten Up,” made minor news recently when MTV announced that it was up for a VMA. Granted, the achievement was small potatoes compared to the lavish (and meaningless) nominations bestowed upon Jared Leto’s wrist-slitting side project 30 Seconds to Mars, but it reflects the Keys’ growing stature.

Predictably, their increasing popularity in the real world has dovetailed with their diminished presence in the underground obsessed world of music crit–where all you need to be a tastemaker is a taste for the strange and a Tumblr account. I’m no less guilty than anyone else. This site has given more coverage to Wavves than it has to Fat Possum’s best breakout act of the last few years. Writing about the Black Keys implies a certain redundancy. They’ve laid out their bluesprint and merely continue to refine and perfect it.

Of course, there were a few mediocre records that revealed a creative statis and engendered several inane Blueshammer comparisons. Yet if Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney had a cardinal flaw, it was their innate deference. A too-tasteful worship of their source material that ultimately led to a creative cul-de-sac. On Brothers, they finally loosened up in a way that they hadn’t since Chulahoma. Much has been made of Auerbach’s swooming falsetto and it’s a welcome touch that adds balance. But I suspect the answer is even more simple: they probably just allowed themselves to lighten up.

Every interview they give (particularly Carney) is usually quote-worthy, and reveals a side rarely seen in their searing guitar jams. The video for “Tighten Up” allows a similar window into their personality with its clergy-courting clip depicting young children lip-syncing a love song on a playground. Throughout the record, the arrangements reflect this desire for space. They seem less about blowing minds with their blooz riffs and more about crafting songs that sound better on booze.It’s the sort of album that reflects the still-kicking print vs. Internet divide, but it shouldn’t. It’s superficially comfortable and safe, but it’s anything but. Even if they aren’t sampling found sounds and singing about “Black Mud” rather than the waves, The Black Keys are the rare rock band that deserves the shine of the MTV limelight. Even if you disagree, a vote for The Black Keys is a vote against Kings of Leon. –Weiss

MP3: The Black Keys-“Tighten Up”