Happy Good Friday to my Christian friends out there, and a Happy Friday to my non-Christian friends! As a man who is closer in age to being one who yells at kids to get off his lawn, I realize that sometimes in here I complain about the state of music not being as important as it seemed to be when I was a kid. I guess my problem is rock music’s status within the millennials’ world of pop culture. If you look at the spending habits of Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, you notice they still buy the majority of concert tickets and physical carriers of music (CDs and vinyl), while millennials prefer to download their favorite songs, preferably for nothing. It is simply the difference in the technology available that accounts for the difference. Unfortunately, the downside to this is that music no longer brings groups of people together to listen to an artist’s latest release or to see another in concert with a group of friends. That has been replaced with your favorite songs on your smart phone, available for you to listen to it via Blacktooth technology in your car or as you walk via headphones or earbuds. Now, music is an isolating experience.
I find that aspect sad. I can remember cruising as a teenager, and nearly every car had their car radios tuned to the same station. There was nothing like a dozen cars full of teens blaring Foghat’s “Slow Ride” or “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ‘n’ the Tears. Crazy memories that I wish all teens could have, but I guess the millennials are all eliciting some communal response from something collectively on their smart phones. I just don’t see how it works with the same emotional intensity of memories as music can elicit.
Now, the state of music is not as dire as I would like to believe, it is only more difficult to find the good stuff, and not the stuff pushed upon the youth by Ryan Seacrest’s nationally syndicated radio station. Since the turn of the millennium, I have discovered a cornucopia of terrific artists who should be in your playlists. For the Grateful Dead and Phish Jam Band freaks out there, go listen to My Morning Jacket, while all of you who love STAX and other Seventies R&B should find the late Charles Bradley, Leon Bridges, St. Paul & Broken Bones, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats or the late Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. If you prefer Southern Rock, there’s the Drive-By Truckers and Blackberry Smoke. Want some Power Pop, check out OK Go, Fountains of Wayne, Derrick Anderson, Kai Danzberg, et al. For lovers of Rolling Stones-styled rock, go find The Struts, Alabama Shakes or The Black Keys. Seventies CBGBs-era Punk, try The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines or The White Stripes. New Wave? DREAMCAR, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand. Female art rock sounds ala Yoko Ono or Laurie Anderson, check out St. Vincent. And this paragraph could go on forever. The point is, great music that would have been played on album oriented rock radio back in the Seventies and early Eighties is not finding an all-inclusive outlet; therefore, making it extremely difficult for a new artists to make a pop cultural impact as artists in the past could.
Right now, although this band has not released an album of new material in several years, The Black Keys may be arguably the biggest rock band in the world. Unfortunately, few people know this. Since 2008, when The Black Keys released their first album produced by the great Danger Mouse, Attack & Release, the band made a quick ascent to the top of a much less lucrative rock mountain behind their three following albums: Brothers (2010), the band’s masterpiece El Camino (2011) and Turn Blue (2014). Each album built upon the success of the previous album only to continue this growth streak both creatively and financially. However, there is a new paradigm for bands to follow, and The Black Keys may have found the new formula. Instead of relying on radio airplay, or even big streaming gains, The Keys discovered that through the licensing of their music for use in commercials was much larger financial windfall for the band, which brought the band more widespread exposure, thus driving up their album sales.
But, to this old idealist, who stood with artists refusing to sell out their music to ad agencies, this crass example of capitalism is very disheartening. Oh well! Want me to yell, “Get off my lawn”? Or do I try to accept this. As a music lover, I simply accept it, continue to purchase the music I like and move on. The time’s they are a-changing’, as the prophet once sang.
The Black Keys are one of those bands who would have experienced success no matter when they would have appeared on the rock and roll timeline. Even though the musicians are young in age, they are old souls in the type of music from which they draw inspiration. And, although the duo sounds as if they are immersed in old Howlin’ Wolf records, you can also tell they are of the hip hop generation with the clues hiding in their rhythms, along with the rap-rock hybrid record they made nearly a decade ago with members of Wu-Tang Clan under the guise of their alter ego Blakroc.
And, although The Black Keys, much like The White Stripes, the band with whom they are compared, are a duo consisting of a guitarist (Dan Auerbach) and a drummer (Patrick Carney). The lack of a bassist in no way impedes the band’s ability to be funky. Plus, if they really want to add to their bottom end, they bring in a session bassist. But, to be perfectly honest, the band’s music rarely needs that augmentation. Somehow, the duo just does not need the extra musician.
Additionally, as a fan of the band who discovered them before their career blew up, yet after they were being hyped in the early part of their career as the next White Stripes. Auerbach and Carney were able to maintain they artist compass throughout this development time. Originally, the duo hailed from Akron, Ohio, and that dying town’s DNA was prevalent throughout their artist development, much like it was always in LeBron James’ basketball brilliance. And, like LeBron, The Black Keys too began to feel stifled by the small town, so, in an effort to save their artistic souls just at the moment their were peaking, the duo packed up and moved to Nashville. This move allowed the boys to grow artistically, much like King James’ move to South Beach helped his game reach new heights. In the cases of these superstars, these moves helped them attain new heights, which, in the case of James, he brought back to Cleveland and helped them achieve the championship that immortalized LBJ forever.
Who knows what heights The Black Keys will reach? The Black Keys have been on hiatus since their last tour ended in 2015. In the meantime, Auerbach has released a well-received solo album, as well as doing some production work for some bands on his label. Carney, on the other hand, has been spending his time by doing some session work, as well as doing his own production work, most notably on his current girlfriend’s, Michelle Branch’s, comeback album that was released last year. My guess is these geniuses are slowly gaining the artist experiences they each were seeking in order to eventually bring them back together for a monster Black Keys reunion. That is something I am awaiting.
There seems to be something of a hole in my rock and roll heart, the key is just may be black. Actually, it just might take two black keys to rev my rock and roll engine. Cheesy, yes. Sometimes, ya just gotta go with the clichés over originality, to make the art react properly. Or, more likely, I am just not that good of a writer. Deal with it.