THE BLACK KEYS: MAGIC POTION (2006)
1) Just Got To Be; 2) Your Touch; 3) You're The One; 4) Just A Little Heat; 5) Give Your Heart Away; 6) Strange Desire; 7) Modern Times; 8) The Flame; 9) Goodbye Babylon; 10) Black Door; 11) Elevator.
The Black Keys move in spirals. After the success of Rubber Factory and several pleasant diversions (such as the release of an «official live bootleg» and a short EP consisting entirely of covers of the recently deceased bluesman Junior Kimbrough), their next full-fledged venture into the studio plays out the formula of Thickfreakness: follow an interesting, stylistically unusual album with a mediocre «shadow» that exemplifies the art of coasting and — the way I see it, at least — can only really count as a muscle-training effort, to keep the brain occupied while at the same time denying it access to anything supernatural. An album that «buys time», in short.
Just like Thickfreakness, Magic Potion is a straightahead formulaic album, 90% of which consists of mid-tempo «leaden» blues-rockers, whose only point of differentiation lies in riffage. 'You're The One' is a solitary Southern rock-style ballad; the rest sounds more monotonous than your average AC/DC album. The riffs in question are not bad, but, traditionally, represent minor variations on classic garage and hard-rock melodies; hardcore fans of Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, Blue Öyster Cult, Mountain, etc., will no doubt be able to «crack» most of these chord sequences open in no time.
Meanwhile, the little touches that made Rubber Factory so individualistic — the Gershwin quotes, the quirky rearrangement of the Kinks cover, the knife-sharp signature changes, the moody acoustic pieces — have once again been abandoned in favor of a «hardcore» sonic approach that could only satisfy the proper hardcore fans. By all means, it could not satisfy an aspiring reviewer — how do you verbally review a record whose only asset is a set of similar-sounding blues-rock riffs? So, uh, I like the riff of 'Just A Little Heat', which begins just like BOC's 'Cities On Flame With Rock'n'Roll', and the riff of 'Give Your Heart Away', which ends just like Black Sabbath's 'Sweet Leaf'. Who the heck cares, though?
Like I said, 'You're The One' is the only song to step away from the format, but it itself plays out as a light parody on soulful Southern balladry à la Skynyrd — emphasized in the lyrics ("When I was thirteen / My mom said son / You're the one I adore": if this doesn't sound as funny as the Ramones' "Hey little girl, I wanna be your boyfriend", it is only because we don't normally expect The Black Keys to sound funny. We might be wrong about that). In the end, it is about as soulful as Danny Auerbach normally gets — no more, no less. As is all of this middle-of-the-road, marking-time album, another burst of joy for neo-dirty-blues-rock fans, another slab of potential disappointment for those who think that neo-dirty-blues-rock is not necessarily supposed to merely flash different subtle shades of one single trick over and over again. As a representative of the latter group, I sadly provide Magic Potion with a thumbs down.
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