With Four New Grammys, Are The Black Keys Still Relevant? Do They Care?

February 15, 2013

15-minutes-of-fame. For some, it lasts a few years. For others, it’s a one-hit-wonder and they’re out. Or if you’re Aristotle, you just keep truckin’ on for millennia. Or maybe, you don’t really care how long you’re relevant. But if you’re releasing albums and touring the world, it’d be hard to claim you’re doing it just for the artistic experience – you either enjoy the ocean of eyes and ears open to your expression, or you want to find others with similar taste. Of course, more than one desire propels a now famous group forward, but what’s The Black Keys’ primary motivation for existing?

In a 2012 interview with The Telegraph, Dan Auerback and Patrick Carney reflect on their not-so-quick path to fame. Surprisingly, they voiced an adamantly conservative view on artistic evolution. They see bigger concert audiences and album sales as  a product of their consistent identity and claim that changing in the face of increasing popularity is a mistake they’ve seen others make, and will avoid that pitfall themselves. Why I find this funny and surprising is not necessarily because they contradict themselves, as blues-rock is inherently a pretty ‘underground’ genre, but because scrolling down to the comment section immediately fills the screen with a consensus: “you have changed, The Black Keys!”

Now, now, I understand that internet comment sections shouldn’t be a first choice for intelligent references, but they do accurately represent a multitude of views. And anyone with access to their music is vital for their success, even anonymous commentators, so where is the dissonance between their words and their actions?

Let’s compare two songs -

“Next Girl” from their 2010 album Brothers

and

“Lonely Boy,” from their most recent album El Camino. 

Do you hear a difference? Is it evolution? Changeeee? Well this is something most Youtube commentators, and The Black Keys, seem to miss – clear definitions. What do you mean by change, Dan and Patrick? You obviously can’t record the same song over and over, so what style of blues-rock maintains your ‘image’ and ‘tone’ without, in the case of these two songs, slipping into the catchy choruses of pop music? Because “Lonely Boy” seems pretty radio friendly to me. Or is it that the general taste is morphing and progressing towards a pluralistic desire for music? If so, then The Black Keys aren’t necessarily changing in the radical sense but are just going through the natural, minimalistic changes that every band should endure if they wish to produce new songs.

What’s your opinion, readers? The primary possibilities I see are

  1. They’re radically changing and will adapt to the mainstream ears, whether they’re conscious of it or not.
  2. They’re growing naturally and still hold strong to their roots; the public is just more accepting of their genre now.
  3. “I don’t care either way; I’m more interested in what they can do to keep it fresh.”
  4.  Some synthesis of these three or some alternative.

Option number three brings me to my last point regarding their evolution: are they actually making a mistake by not evolving, contrary to the lesson they claim to have learned? Think about it, your preference for music relies on your taste and your metric of quality, but there’s a hidden variable that contains these two but also rests on when you hear something – it’s the freshness of a piece. Most people never heard Dubstep (or Brostep) until Skrillex hit the radio, even though it existed for quite some time, so it was simply that they weren’t aware of their taste for Dubstep. This originality factor is what brings most 15-minutes-of-famers into the limelight. So are The Black Keys ignoring the fact that beyond their skill is the common appreciation for ‘fresh’ music? If the natural change they claim to be going with fails to meet the demand of fans and potential fans, what do they do? Contingent upon whether they stick to their word or not, they might be stuck playing for less-than-sold-out underground venues.

Or, you know, maybe they just don’t care what happens…

WELL!

All of this considered, if you want to experience these Grammy award winning artists live, their 2013 tour begins on March 30th in Sao Paulo, Brazil. If you can’t take a weekend to South America, their first U.S. location is Kansas City, Missouri on April 28th; the tour will conclude with a performance in Simpsonville, South Carolina on July 12th. If you’re concerned with which Black Keys you’ll be listening to, their set list from a 2012 concert in August indicates you won’t hear anything older than their Brothers album. So if you’re into ‘old’ Black Keys, you may be stuck at home listening to Rubber Factory through headphones. But if you dig El Camino and Brothers, you’ll be met by a ‘spirited’ Dan and Patrick, although you shouldn’t expect them to interact with the crowd much. However, you might get lucky and they’ll surprise you with something from the new untitled album set for release this year. Let me know if they do, because then we’ll really know how much they “won’t change.”

{ 1 comment }

madeline picard February 17, 2013 at 11:10 AM

great article….

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