Review Summary: Black Keys frontman releases more psychedelic solo disc; the results are not up to his standards.
In the spring of 2008, I was trying to figure out what album to download when the Black Keys' name came up. I had heard so much about them, but I wasn't sure how much I'd like a 2-piece garage band this heavily rooted in the blues. I liked the White Stripes, with whom the Keys are most often compared, but I expected a big dose of "meh" when I acquired Rubber Factory.
Instead, I loved the punchy, simple but effective riffs that Dan Auerbach layed down and the hammering drums of Patrick Carney. I got the Danger Mouse-produced departure from their sound that was Attack & Release and loved it, and before I knew it I had acquired all five of their full-length albums.
So it was a pleasant surprise when I learned that Auerbach was releasing a solo album. The high critical praise it received just made me want it more. "What difference does a drummer make, anyway"" I thought. Apparently, plenty.
Don't get me wrong, Keep it Hid does sound like the Black Keys. But it doesn't sound like a Black Keys album, if you catch my drift. It is kind of a cross between A&R and the softer ballads that pop up throughout their discography, such as "The Lengths" and "The Flame." However, there is nothing on here as great as Attack & Release or "The Lengths."
If it was thought to be impossible to strip down a minimalist garage duo with no bassist, this album proves the thought wrong. The crunchy, distorted *oomph!* of Auerbach's guitar tone that was most effective on Rubber Factory and the Big Come Up is nearly non-existent here. Carney's drums are far away from those of Auerbach's session man. And most importantly, the songs here just aren't very memorable.
The biggest positive difference here is that a stripped-down Auerbach is even more soulful than usual. He does have one of the best voices in modern rock for the style of music he chooses to play, and it is used to full effect on songs like "When the Night Comes," which is a rather bland ballad otherwise.
When Auerbach does play louder and bluesier (like on "Street Walkin'"), or more psychedelic (like on "Mean Monsoon"), he creates some of the best songs on the album. The problem is, they don't stick in my head the way that Keys songs like "All Hands Against His Own" and "Stack Shot Billy" did almost immediately.
Readers may think I'm comparing this record with the Black Keys a little too much, but if you haven't heard the album, it should be known that it will be different than expected. The quality of the two musical entities is something that's entirely subjective, and I don't think my "Average" rating should be cause to turn tail and run from Keep it Hid. But if you go into this expecting the rock solid, crunchy Delta blues of the Keys, this might leave you a bit puzzled.