Sunday, October 12, 2008

'Attack and Release,' The Black Keys

I was all ready for producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse to take The Black Keys' hardcore blues sound into the stratosphere with this new album. That didn’t happen, which makes “Attack and Release” a bit disappointing at the outset.

It seems Mouse was content to, for the most part, let the Keys do what they do and add a few little touches around the edges. They work more often than not, like fiery lead single "Strange Times," the ruminating “Psychotic Girl,” or blues-with-flute rocker "Same Old Thing." Elsewhere, not as much, like the dreadful two-fer of “Lies” and “Remember When (Side A)" that turns the middle of this record into a black hole.

My instant negative impression may actually be a result of poor sequencing. With hopes so high, starting the CD off with one of its weaker tracks—country ballad "All You Ever Wanted," which doesn't really get interesting until the final 30 seconds—was not a good choice. It sets a poor tone right away. Perhaps it would have been better to open with the album's second track, "I Got Mine," which is the most traditional, straightforward Keys track here—give the listener a baseline, a touchstone of the familiar for the more experimental stuff to come.

In the end, "Attack and Release" suffers under the weight of its expectations. It's certainly a fine album, but Mouse played it a little too safe; I don't finish listening to this record with a "wow" on my lips the way I do, for example, with 2004's incredible "Rubber Factory." Rather than adding little flourishes here and there (though I really like the chiming tone in "Oceans & Streams," for instance), I'd have rather seen him go all the way and really shake things up. Instead, the album feels disjointed, a little constrained, and lacks the energy and suppleness of the group's previous recordings.

Still, put three people of these considerable talents in a room together and it'd be nearly impossible not to come up with something really good, which they have (despite my, rereading now, rather negative review). I guess I'll just always be wondering what might have been.

Grade: B+

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