The Black Keys
Somewhere along the line, most of us have probably had one of those mildly annoying music-maven friends who was hip to everything happening in the scene before anyone else heard it. You know, the kind of guy who seems to be preternaturally tuned in to the cooler-than-thou zeitgeist, someone who just knows about under-the-radar bands that the rest of us plebeians never hear of.
The Black Keys is the kind of band that kind of guy probably would have been listening to long before the rest of us ever got a clue.
As it turns out, this bluesy, alternative garage-rock duo, comprised of guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach and drummer/singer Patrick Carney, has been floating around in the cultural ether since emerging from the Akron, Ohio, music scene in 2001. The group's low-fi, stripped-down, roots-rock sound feels like a hazy throwback to some unspecified era in the past and has earned comparisons with Jack and Meg White's band, The White Stripes (another guitar/drum duo).
Even if most of us except our semi-fictional friend above would be hard put to name a Black Keys song, that doesn't mean we haven't heard this band's music without knowing it. Not only did The Black Keys land a coveted spot on the last Twilight soundtrack, the duo has also had songs featured in movies such as I Love You, Man; School of Rock; Zombieland; RocknRolla; Cloverfield; and Black Snake Moan. And the band's list of TV credits is even longer: Entourage, Hung, The O.C., Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Big Love, One Tree Hill, Rescue Me and a promotional piece for Gossip Girl, not to mention background sound for American Express, Subaru and Victoria's Secret commercials.
The Black Keys' sixth studio album, Brothers, debuted at No. 3 earlier this year and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album. The hit single "Tighten Up," which topped the rock and alternative songs charts, was nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. Another track from Brothers, "Black Mud," earned a fourth Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Given such broad, if arguably stealthy, pop culture seeding, coupled with such big accolades, it's no surprise that 2010 is shaping up to be the year the rest of us find out who The Black Keys are and what they're about.
"Tighten Up" delivers a big dish of stereotypically desperate blues. An old soul sings of falling for a wild woman whom he's convinced he'll succeed in wooing one day … despite evidence to the contrary. "Someone said, 'True love is dead,'" we hear in the opening stanza. "And I'm bound to fall, bound to fall/For you/But what can I do?" Indeed, what can he do about someone who's rendered our love-struck narrator "sick for days" because of a girl who's "runnin' wild/ … I'm achin' now/It's times like these I need relief." Despite the fact that things don't look good for this would-be Romeo, he's sure that he'll wear down his target's resistance in time: "I just know how I feel/I'm telling you to get ready/My dear."
Apart from a bit of mild innuendo implied by this story of a man who falls for a woman who's apparently cavorting with everyone but him, there's really nothing in this catchy tune that's terribly problematic.
The video for the song is, disappointingly, another story. It pictures Auerbach and Carney acting out the roles of two fathers sitting on a park bench as their two gradeschool-age sons play. It's not long before the boys are competing for the attention of a similarly aged girl—who assumes the role of the sultry adult by swinging her shoulders and sauntering saucily. The boys take turns "singing" verses from the songs … and then vulgarly vent their sudden hostility toward each other as the girl focuses first on one, then the other. One of the boys flips the other his middle finger when it looks as if he's won the day—after which, the apparent loser clearly mouths the obscenity "m‑‑‑‑‑f‑‑‑er." A fight soon erupts, with both trading and taking punches to the face. The dads look on passively until one of them grudgingly intones, "Maybe we should break this up." And so they do.
But when the pretty young girl's mother shows up, she inspires similar rivalry between the dads … right down to the same hand gesture and nasty mouthed word. Blood flies from their noses and mouths as they ridiculously try to pound each other into submission.