This breezy piece of vintage pop rock from the Black Keys frontman is a charming change of direction that works very well indeed.
For 16 years now, Dan Auerbach has been best known as the singer/guitarist in the hugely successful American rock duo, The Black Keys. Much of the band’s sound has been characterised by Auerbach’s hardcore love for blues, which has in turn largely dictated the band’s foundational template of raw and swampy blues/garage rock across eight studio albums. Consequently, it would be safe to assume Auerbach’s tendency towards throaty, howling vocals and fuzzed-out, bluesy guitar leads would also play a presence in his solo work; an assumption that was confirmed on 2009’s Keep It Hid, which more or less provided a direct continuation of the music made in his day job in its standard use of crunchy, lo-fi blues rock. Keeping this in mind, ‘Waiting On A Song’, the title track from Auerbach’s long-awaited second solo album, is a complete musical left-turn and a huge surprise. Instead of the aforementioned bluesy sounds, Auerbach has instead opted for mellow, soft rock stylings that bring to mind late ’60s/early ’70s singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King. Remarkably, this switch up works very well indeed.
Opening to a busy bass riff and chiming percussion, the song very quickly breaks into jauntily strummed acoustic guitars (which pluck out a beautifully pastoral chord progression) and a steady drumbeat which fills the area in a lovingly vintage ‘Wall of Sound’ kind of way. Auerbach’s vocals also come in pretty much from the outset, creating a lilting and gently exuberant vocal melody that he builds up with layered harmonies that only add to the nicely retro feel. His lyrics are fairly straightforward, essentially describing the activities he undergoes to procrastinate whilst enduring writers’ block, as he continues to express the sentiment frequently as a hook.
The bridge is a more despondent minor key chord sequence that counterpoints nicely to the verses, again in a very ‘classic pop’ way that is somewhat endearing. These choruses, filled with more aggressively strummed guitars and some slightly abstract lyrics, fall away pretty quickly to the patterns of before. Excluding a nicely twangy guitar solo, the song more or less fits into this structure for the reminder before collapsing with chiming bells and strummed chords. This is actually to the song’s advantage – anything more would arguably clutter the vintage feel and almost Beach Boys-like breeziness.
In fact, the only real detriment is that the song is arguably slightly too breezy. The central melody is certainly lovely and sweet in its old-school touch (and works as a subtle earworm) but it isn’t necessarily the most interesting one Auerbach has ever written. This, along with the lack of any further idiosyncrasies, doesn’t really make the song especially distinctive bar its dreamy, retro feel (an approach exacerbated by its sun-kissed, Dazed and Confused-style music video). Nevertheless, the track is a bright, unexpected and a thoroughly enjoyable delve into the past from Auerbach that certainly intrigues for the rest of his album.
‘Waiting On A Song’ is out now via Easy Eye Sound