You can no longer become rich and famous through music. But only through self-transformation into a brand. People download the feeling of having understood the artist as such. And in fact, it can also happen with the Black Keys that they no longer represent a mystery. Everything they do makes sense.
Yet the New York Times asked a year ago, “Are the Black Keys still underdogs?”
The question arose because the band had returned to the big pop stage after a break of several years with the album “Let’s Rock”. The arenas sold out immediately, everyone wanting to see the indie darlings from Akron, Ohio recapture their irrepressible former energy. Despite making more money than many US stars who are more famous, they are still considered the guys next door. And they say, “Wherever hot dogs are sold, it’s our people.”
Blues rock as music from below for people from below has a distinctly stuffy side. However, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have always known how to avoid this socio-romantic line of tradition. “I’m a stranger,” Auerbach sings now, “with a crooked smile and a wandering eye who puts you in danger / Come here, let me tell you a lie.”
These lines from the opener “Wild Child” set the tone for Dropout Boogie (Nonesuch Records), the band’s eleventh album. The song brings with it all the ingredients that have always characterized earthy, melodic riff-rock – dirty chords, glowing choruses and the trust that something remains valid in the age-old wisdom of the blues of longing, sex, sentimentality. Enhanced by the subtle irony of selling such a flat subject as a declaration of love to a young “baby girl” as eternal blues truth (“You’re gonna get my love today-ay-ay-ay-yeah” ).
The only thing that isn’t a lie in this song is that it’s about a lie. Although lying is not entirely correct. Guys like Auerbach and Carney would never approach a girl with a promise as full-bodied as the one made in “Wild Child.” Auerbach would rather not say anything, and Carney might try a joke before he got stuck too. Both would be lost if the music didn’t allow them to let their imaginations run wild. The marriages of the two rock stars didn’t work out so well.
Only great comedians can be totally serious about something and at the same time take it as a joke. That school friends Auerbach and Carney are like that becomes clearer with every album that follows their five-year hiatus. In the video for the first single “Go” they poked fun at the rumor that they had a falling out and wouldn’t talk to each other anymore.
The voodoo magic of a hippie clinic is supposed to bring them together again. In the “Wild Child” video, they now go in search of their college roots, disguised as a janitor and cafeteria cook, hoping to find inspiration in the place where it all began. “For the album” is the motto of their high school ordeal before finally driving away in Rolls-Royce limousines.
The punchline cleverly alludes to a fundamental concern of the band: wanting to constantly reinterpret the Delta blues can make you a millionaire, but it has nothing to do with retro chic and self-marketing. With what instead, songs like “It Ain’t Over” and “How Long” make palpable, beautifully lulling lamentations about waiting.
Waiting for the “love that’s a real long shot” living with someone else. Waiting for the important moment that you don’t dare to expect. Waiting for the good love that’s so damn hard to find. Patience is a blues virtue. Whether Auerbach and Carney really master them is not entirely clear. It took ten days this time to record as many songs for Dropout Boogie, they say. They went to Auerbach’s Nashville studio with nothing but the instruments.
It may be unfair to compare the result with the great achievements of ten years ago, the albums “Brothers” and “El Camino”, when the Black Keys joined forces with the White Stripes (“Seven Nation Army”) to define the rock sound of an era coined. In fact, the first half of their boogie record builds on it again – also successful “For The Love Of Money” – but the second only stirs up the brew of hill country blues, which they with their cover album “Delta Kream ’ expressed their heartfelt gratitude over the past year.
This archival work had become necessary to remember what they used to tour the USA to exhaustion, vagabonds like their role models, until they got tired of their visages, because you get tired of everyone “when you’re 15 years old crammed into the same boat with him”. This is how Auerbach recently explained the compulsion to take a break from the band in a CBS interview.
However, not enough of the classic blues songs with their borrowings from John Lee Hooker and Junior Kimbrough remain to recognize a revival in them. Perhaps they are preparing the next stylistic flight of fancy.
Or the Keys are now content in their role as stoic marginal figures whose music is an antidote to quick consumption. “Happiness, it isn’t known to us,” they say, along with the comment that waiting is perhaps not the best of all attitudes to life.