In preparations for The Black Keys show I’m going to in less than a month, I have been listening to their older records to reacquaint myself with some songs I used to love. “Thickfreakness” still rules, “The Big Come Up” is a great debut and “Rubber Factory” shows real growth.
Today I listened to “Attack and Release”, and I have to say, I think this is their most underrated record. I remember liking it a good deal when it came out. Listening to it this morning, I love it. This was when The Black Keys started to try something a little different. I love that they were just a guitar and drums duo at first, and when I heard that they were going to work with Danger Mouse, who I adore, and add bass and keys, I was skeptical. Well, I was dead wrong. That really rang true to me today. Their sound on “Attack and Release” is so full, yet still theirs and theirs alone. They still have that raw duo feeling, just spruced up a bit. I also should have never doubted Danger Mouse. He’s worked with tons of different artists, and pretty much everything he touches is great. The same can be said for “Attack and Release”. His influence is right there at the very beginning. The first track, “All You Ever Wanted” features him on the keys, and Dan Auerbach singing like he hadn’t to that point. It’s a beautiful song, and instantly took away any worry I may have had. They then follow it up with “I Got Mine” which is beautifully typical Black Keys. It was also one of the first songs I learned on guitar. It rocks and rolls and Auerbach growls the lyrics and Carney hammers away at his kit. From there on out, the rest of the record is filled with classic Black Keys and them trying out new stuff. They do the same song, “Remember When”, but it’s 2 different styles. The first is slow and filled with instruments they never used before. It’s great. They then play it as a straight up rock song, and it hits like a rock. It’s so cool. After “I Got Mine”, they follow that with the single, “Strange Times”, and that is a great, classic Black Keys song. The next song though, “Psychotic Girl”, has a banjo and Auerbach trying a new singing style and kick ass guitar solos. I love this song. “Lies” is a great peek into the future. It has that slower, soulful sound. It’s a quality song. “Same Old Thing” takes you back to grimy garage rock. “Oceans and Streams” is an interesting, in a good way, amalgamation of their old and new sound. And the final track, “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be”, is another slower, and sad song. It also introduced me to Jessica Lea Mayfield, and she is an amazing singer.
What makes this record so good is how transitional it is for The Black Keys. It marks their first step towards change and growth, yet gives you their usual sound. It’s great. It’s a sneak peek for what future records would sound like. Without “Attack and Release”, and working with Danger Mouse, I don’t know if they would’ve grown as much as they have as a band. This record is now in my top three of their records, and I’d put it in my top 25 all time. It’s that good. I’m glad I revisited it today. It made me so happy that I follow this band and consume all of their music.
Seriously, if you’re a Black Keys fan, give “Attack and Release” a listen today, and think of how it has influenced their current sound. This record was the jump off point, and I hope they play some tunes off it when I see them live. What a great, unheralded record.