As a bit of a font geek it was the cover that first got me into Black Keys Brothers; I knew enough of my history to know they’d pinched the idea from The Howlin’ Wolf Album but what me worry? I thought, and still think, the packaging of this LP is genius. I love the whole ‘These are the songs on this album’, ‘These are the guys in the band’ commentary going on, very basic, very showy, totally clever.
I bought this first on CD without ever having heard a song by Black Keys to keep me awake during a long night drive home in awful weather (I know I’ve told this story before, it was the same trip – GREAT soundtrack!), within 5 minutes I was totally hooked by ‘Next Girl’ and listened to that track 4 times in a row, by the time I drove home again a few days later I was word perfect on the whole of Brothers. Although I splashed out later on the vinyl, which cost a bomb* and came with a free CD copy of the album (although my original CD was a double, with some live in the studio versions of the tracks The Akron Sessions).
It’s a difficult thing to pin down why this is such a great, great LP but listening to Brothers over and over this week I think I’ve got it. Quite simply it’s a dirt-basic formula of great songs, played and produced brilliantly – easy, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it! There are no tricks and gimmicks to date the sound at all and I suspect that Brothers will sound every bit as good in 2040 in our space pods as it does today. They carry off the neat trick of sounding very contemporary and classic, so much so that even on a first listen you can convince yourself you’re rediscovering songs you heard somewhere, years ago.
Take opener ‘Everlasting Light’, the drum and guitar sound and ‘shhhh’ noises, the warm production and gentle crescendo, that astonishing falsetto, you could be stumbling across a jam from a legendary half-finished LP, pulled from a dusty cupboard in Muscle Shoals (where the bulk of the LP was recorded, initially). Did I mention my love for ‘Next Girl’ yet? I’ve always been a sucker for a bitter break-up song sung like it still hurts, add in some swampy atmosphere and you’ve got me eating out of your hand, possibly for ever.
Well, the look of the cake, it ain’t
It ain’t always the taste
My ex girl, she had such a
Such a beautiful face
Oh, my next girl
Will be nothing like my ex girl
I made mistakes back then
I’ll never do it again
Then a whistle, a drum beat and suddenly we’re off into ‘Tighten Up’, a Danger Mouse production with it’s hip-hop drum patterns, contrasted against some wonderful 60’s style organ and great, changing, time signatures. Modern, classic, perfect. It get’s even better with the predatory, ‘Howlin’ For You’ the mean fuzz and menacing vocals house-trained by a great tune and skittish drumming – I have very fond memories of drunkenly dancing to this in a club a few years back, entirely by myself. Ahh, 1537: The Lost Years.
I’ll spare you the full A-B-C of Brothers, hell you probably own it too. I used to think it died off a bit towards the end, but I wised up. It’s all damn good, the swampy, umm, muddy instrumental ‘Black Mud’, the harpsichord toting ‘Too Afraid To Love You’, the straight blues-soul of ‘Ten Cent Pistol’ – I won’t bore you. But there’s a real sense of Brothers being an LP made just the way bands used to make them, every song having it’s own sound and it’s own merits, nothing here is about a Black Keys sound imposed on the tunes, it’s the other way around if anything. Take the closer ‘These days’, a song and a feeling and a vocal (for that matter) that the Stones, the Band, or even The Beatles would be proud to own, not to mention a whole host of decent soul singers I’m nowhere near cool enough to identify. It’s a beautiful jaded lament for simpler, more innocent times, I could imagine Janis Joplin doing it real justice,
These blood red eyes
Don’t see so good
But what’s worse is if they could
Would I change my ways?
Wasted times and broken dreams
Violent colors so obscene
It’s all I see these days
The way I see it is that if you’re not the sort of genre-blinded nutter** who will only listen to Brazillian Gruntcore, or weedy indie bands from Brooklyn, then Brothers will speak to you on some level. Hell, if you like music you’ll like this LP. Brothers just embodies so much of what has been great in American music over the last 45 years. It’s an LP to fall in love with, and to; to fall out of love to, but not with. It’ll always sound like a stormy drive at night to me. It’s a classic, it really is. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, or leave you wanting more.
And cooper black is one hell of a font.
P.S – if you never have check out the videos they made for the singles from Brothers, each and every one a classic.
*although not as much as El Camino which cost me an arm and a leg, I’m currently into a 2-year savings plan so I can afford their next vinyl release.
**which I certainly have been at times.