As The Black Keys’ Brothers turns 10, Getintothis’ Danni King takes a look into their impressive back catalogue.
9 studio albums, multiple Grammy Awards, and a lengthy list of non-stop tunes; The Black Keys‘ boast an impressive career.
The American duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney formed in 2001 as an independent act, and never stopped from their first release, which combined with a second-wave of the garage-rock genre’s revival during the 2010’s allowed them to gain the popularity they deserved.
Starting out self-producing from their garage, it’s almost unbelievable how far they’ve came, yet their distinctive blues-rock sound never faltered once.
Just a year after forming, they released their debut album The Big Come Up on indie label Alive; “The only label that would sign us without seeing us” as the duo put it.
This quickly led to a whole new record deal, and over the next decade they built a fanbase from touring small clubs and venues, festivals, most significantly, frequent album releases.
Second album Thickfreakness quickly followed in 2003, establishing them as an indie-rock blues band, and even leading them to secure multiple tour dates supporting Beck.
However, their first real breakthrough came in 2004, with third album Rubber Factory getting critically acclaimed, consequently boosting their profile overnight; major record label Nonesuch Records quickly snapped them up.
They continued touring, releasing, and perfecting their sound, and it soon paid off.
Career defining album Brothers was released in 2010, finally securing the band the big breakthrough they rightly deserved.
The duo and their team sensed the magic of Brothers from the start of recording, and they weren’t wrong.
“Things were happening that were very, very transcendent as soon as they started playing. First few takes, we literally couldn’t believe what we were hearing”.
Brothers went on to sell 73,000 copies in the US in it’s first week alone, not to mention the 3 Grammy Awards it went on to secure.
Not ones to break habit, the band continued with their frequent album releases, with the next 3 albums showing them at the very top of their game, propelling them into the limelight.
So, as Brothers turns 10, we delve into all 9 albums to see how The Black Keys became the indie-rock sensation that they are today.
The Big Come Up (2002)
On the first listen, it might not strike you as life-changing or immensely impressive, but The Big Come Up captures The Black Keys’ sound so perfectly, it makes its way onto your playlist unknowingly.
It sounds like what it is; two guys jamming in a basement attempting to master their acquired sound, but that’s what’s so brilliant about it.
Do The Rump conjures up a blues-style groove, with Auerbach’s vocals sounding older than their time.
Arguably the standout of the album, I’ll Be Your Man, shows the band’s sound beginning to properly come together, simultaneously letting you know that there’s a lot more to come where that came from.
The Big Come Up offers a lot, from original songs penned by Carney and Auerbach, to covers of classic indie-blues artists R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, and even a Beatles’ cover.
One thing remains consistent throughout the 13-track album, and that’s the distinctive garage-rock sound of The Black Keys.
Even when taking on The Beatles‘ She Said, She Said, they offer a completely original take on the classic, making it their own.
For a debut album released over 15 years ago, it still doesn’t sound outdated today. The Big Come Up is successful in being authentically timeless.
If you’re looking for classic rock and blues, look no further than Thickfreakness.
Beginning with the title track, Thickfreakness capturing classic bluesy rock accompanied by some ever impressive vocals by Auerbach, you know from the first song you need to carry on listening.
Whilst a couple of covers are still thrown in, the duo’s original songs take centre stage throughout.
Set You Free offers classic garage-rock grit, making it unsurprising to learn it made it onto the soundtrack of 2003’s School of Rock.
Arguably one of the best of the 11 tracks on Thickfreakness, Midnight In Her Eyes offers one of the few of the band’s songs which uses a bass guitar, making it stand out from the start. It proves the duo’s early songwriting talents, not to mention the unmissable riffs.
The album gained heavy comparisons to fellow garage-rock band The White Stripes, but The Black Keys remain putting their own spin on classic blues-style rock.
Rubber Factory (2004)
Rubber Factory is The Black Keys’ first album that really sounded complete, and listening to it makes it difficult to believe it’s still just two guys in their basement.
Opening song When The Lights Go Out portrays a gloomy atmosphere, with raw, low vocals, but that doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the record.
10 A.M. Automatic quickly comes blaring out as the second track, making you intrigued to listen to what’s to come next.
Girl Is on My Mind and All Hands Against His Own showcase The Black Keys’ classic sound, with heavy guitar riffs and immense drumming from Carney.
Proposing a more vulnerable side to the duo but still keeping that garage-rock grit, The Lengths stands out from the rest. Auerbach’s song-writing abilities shine through on every track on Rubber Factory, but The Lengths let’s you know he’s undeniably talented.
The entire album proves impressive, with even a cover of The Kinks’ Act Nice and Gentle thrown in. Rubber Factory showed them to of finally mastered their sound, classic rock but with their blues influences remaining unmissable on every song.
It’s not hard to realise why Rubber Factory redefined The Black Keys, it surprised listeners but in the best way possible.
Chulahoma is a 7-track compilation of The Black Keys’ covers of songs by blues artist Junior Kimbrough, one of the band’s biggest influences.
They do every cover justice, making it sound like a classic Black Keys tune, yet they succeed in maintaining Kimbrough’s sound throughout.
Their cover of classic blues tunes Meet Me In The City and Have Mercy On Me both prove significantly impressive – they could easily be mistaken as their own.
With the duo already proven to be masters at covering others’ songs, Chulahoma takes that to a new level, and each cover allows both Carney and Auerbach to show what they’re capable of.
Whilst Chulahoma is essentially a tribute album, The Black Keys master it perfectly.
Attack & Release (2008)
If you’re new to the world of The Black Keys, Attack & Release is the place to start.
When an indie-rock style band team up with the likes of Danger Mouse, it’s hard to believe it’ll create anything worth listening to, but Attack & Release proved unlikely combinations can work wonders.
From the dark, gloomy start of All You Ever Wanted, to the jazz-funk vibe of Same Old Thing, the entire album is possibly, perfect.
Each song differs in it’s production, a new path for the band take at the time, after their initial releases.
Psychotic Girl quickly becomes your new favourite song, whilst Oceans and Streams gives your playlist a classic rock anthem.
Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be might be last, but it’s definitely not least as Auerbach’s howling vocals take centre stage, making a lasting impression as the album draws to a close.
At the time of release, other bands of the same blues-rock genre, such as Wolfmother and The White Stripes released records which would usually make for quick comparisons, but The Black Keys’ couldn’t be compared to, they’d outdone their rivals, and themselves, with Attack & Release.
The album that changed everything, literally.
Brothers is still, 10 years after its release, a staple album to your collection.
Sparking the band’s big commercial breakthrough, Brothers completely redefined The Black Keys, from their music ability to their popularity.
Their sound became more playful, and it’s quick to show how far they’d came since their initial releases The Big Come Up and Thickfreakness..
Lead single Tighten’ Up showed that whilst they’ll always stick with their blues-rock sound, the introduction of new sounds and experimentation pays off. Tighten’ Up is still to this day one of their best songs, it’s original and makes for unforgettable listening.
One of the many standouts of the album, Howlin’ For You captures your attention from the first 10 seconds. When you think of The Black Keys, or Brothers, Howlin’ For You will remain the first song to spring to mind – it’s that song.
Don’t be mistaken, Brothers has more to offer than two well-known songs, much more.
The likes of She’s Long Gone and Too Afraid To Love show the duo doing what they do best, but with a new energy that is unmissable, whilst I’m Not The One gives you that classic, early 2000’s Black Keys.
The Only One shows them reaching new levels, with Auerbach’s usual howling vocals going soft and quiet, alongside Carney’s drums taking centre-stage, but not in their usual distinctive manner.
Brothers sparked a change in The Black Keys, but never a reinvention. It’s successful in the way that it is completely authentic to them, making it impossible for it to be mistaken for any other indie-rock band.
El Camino (2011)
The change that Brothers sparked in The Black Keys is taken to new heights in El Camino.
A complete contrast to the likes of 2008’s Attack & Release, El Camino gives indie-blues and classic rock a complete reinvention.
Opening track and lead single Lonely Boy was probably their most upbeat track to date at the time, a completely new direction for the duo. Lonely Boy has you ready to dance from the first few beats, never mind the music video accompanying it – it’s not hard to see why it secured the duo 3 Grammy Awards.
Sticking with their newfound sound, Gold On The Ceiling offers probably their most listened to song. It’s undeniably The Black Keys, but with that new energy that began to come through in Brothers multiplied by 100.
Each song is distinctive from one another, but it’s quickly apparent that they’ve mastered the art of feel-good, upbeat songs ready to take a live gig by storm.
Whilst Sister sticks to the guitar-heavy theme and catchy lyrics, acoustic track Little Black Submarines reminds you of their early sound, but with Auerbach sounding stronger than ever.
If you haven’t listened to anything off of El Camino, you’re missing out badly.
Turn Blue (2014)
Opening track Weight of Love sets the tone for Turn Blue. Starting with a Pink Floyd-style guitar solo before any sign of vocals, it’s clear The Black Keys are just getting started.
Mostly leaving the immensely upbeat tunes to El Camino, they use Turn Blue to create a 70s classic-rock vibe, with murky, distant tones.
Year In Review highlights the shift in their music-making, as the lyrics widely contrast those of their previous albums. Feelings take centre-stage, with each song showing their songwriting to take a more personal turn.
Fever stands out amongst the rest, catchy from the first chord, with a distinctive beat and a chorus ready-made for a gig or festival crowd.
The album gives the duo a more cosmic sound, with tracks such as Waiting On Words moving away from Auerbach’s usual, strong vocals and replacing them with indistinctive whispers which wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Tame Impala record.
Gotta Get Away brings the album to a close, a more classic Black Keys tune, but remains a standout amongst the rest, leaving you wondering what direction they could possibly take next.
Turn Blue makes for easy listening, but it lacks the lasting impact in which Brothers and El Camino succeed at.
Let’s Rock (2019)
After the longest hiatus of their career, The Black Keys returned with Let’s Rock, and what a return.
A completely classic Black Keys album, 12 tracks of catchy beats, howling vocals and a complete contrast to 2014’s Turn Blue.
Kicking off with Shine a Little Light and lead single Lo/Hi, you know from the start that Auerbach and Carney sounding better than ever as the sound of a torrent of brawling guitars takes hold.
Go and Eagle Birds return back to their distinctive sound defined on Brothers, whilst still capturing the energy of El Camino through using catchy choruses and distinctive riffs.
They succeed in accompanying the album with subtle nods throughout to their influences and inspirations, with most notably Sit Around And Miss You reminding you instantly of Steelers Wheel’s Stuck In The Middle With You.
Let’s Rock is exactly what you’d expect from The Black Keys, yet after nearly two decades releasing albums their distinctive blues-style rock never falters, or becomes repetitive.
Let’s Rock does exactly what it says on the album sleeve.