The Black Keys (singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney) have been putting out albums since 2002, pledging allegiance to the power of the blues in their garage-rock tunes. If you're new to the band, what tracks should you check out first? Try these 10...
Just like the White Stripes, the Black Keys have a knack for delivering hypnotic, almost claustrophobic tales that seethe with tension. “I Got Mine” would seem to be a declaration of contentment, but this song bruises as it moves along, flirting with quieter dynamics before delivering one last pummeling series of guitar riffs.
Like the bluesmen of yesteryear, Auerbach spends a lot of time singing about his lustful urges. “Your Touch” is one of the band’s most strutting (and, frankly, horny) cries for sexual satisfaction, heightened by the stop-and-start momentum of the guitars and drums. Imagine a stripped-down, snarling Led Zeppelin -- mixed with a little Bad Company – and you’ll have an idea of what’s going on here.
Never underestimate the power of some catchy, carefree whistling in a rock song. Artfully merging pop, rock and blues, “Tighten Up” smartly articulated the Black Keys’ garage energy for a mainstream audience that was finally ready to get into these guys. And no matter how many times you hear it, that fun bridge -- where everything suddenly slows down and gets trippy -- is a blast.
When the Black Keys try to write a ballad, it comes out something like “You’re the One,” which isn’t exactly a waive-your-lighter stadium anthem but is filled with deep wells of emotion. A slow, beautiful ode to love, it starts off with the singer remembering his mother’s adoration for him and concludes with the hope that his partner loves him with the same resolve.
From the beginning, Auerbach has always displayed superb guitar skills, but “10 A.M. Automatic” is in its own special category. Riding a lively beat, the Black Keys’ frontman lays into his instrument, piling on the riffs with a cocksure assurance that almost turns this up-tempo number into a dance track.
Bad girls are a lyrical staple for the Black Keys, but the moody “Psychotic Girl” added a little voodoo to the mix. Incorporating banjos and saloon piano, this Attack & Release song finds Auerbach trying to steer clear of a seductive, tempestuous woman he knows will break his heart. But from the swampy sound of the music, it’s clear she’s put a spell on him.
You might recognize “I’ll Be Your Man” because it was the theme song to the HBO show Hung. Before then, though, it was the nasty come-on from the band’s 2002 debut, The Big Come Up. Sexy, cocky and urgent, the song sounds like it was inspired from many nights closely studying the playbooks of classic blues figures like Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy.
Though never released as a single, “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be” is a high-water mark off Attack & Release. Turning down the volume but not the intensity, Auerbach gets in touch with his melancholy, soulful side, and his guitar playing simply breaks your heart. Also, check out those keyboards, which only amplify the sense that the song’s narrator is pouring out his heart while standing out in the rain.
Brothers represented the band’s attempt to open up their sound to the masses, and on “Howlin’ for You” they engagingly demonstrated how open they could be. Goosed along by Carney’s funky rhythms, Auerbach puts his tongue in his cheek, mocking the romantic anguish he usually treats very, very seriously.
On its surface, there’s nothing really that exceptional about “Lonely Boy”: It’s just some simple blues riffs and some soulful background vocals. So why then is the El Camino single easily the most insanely addictive song the Black Keys ever came up with? Part of the answer is that it’s an impressively taut, tuneful little scorcher. The other part is all those “Oh oh oh”s in the chorus. Just try to resist singing along.