Can a well-produced, enjoyable song from a popular band be boring? Apparently!
Is this good? I’m struggling to tell.
‘Lo/Hi’ is the first single from The Black Keys – duo Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney – since their 2014 record Turn Blue.
At their best, The Black Keys tend to channel a sort of classic, blues-rock sensibility into a harder sound. At their worst, the end product of this equation ends up so homogeneously one-note that Pizza Hut was able to reproduce it almost spot on.
‘Lo/Hi’ lands somewhere in the middle. It’s eminently listenable – the sound is crunchy, a little faded, with nice details like the flavours of reverb and speaker feedback to evoke a recording made in a backroom or a basement. If anything, the sound is a little too distant – it makes me need to up my volume like a crotchety old grandpa. Even then however I still struggle to pick out Auerbach’s vocals against the background noise, which would be frustrating were it not just about the only emotion these lyrics move me to. “When I get low, I go get high” is a fun sentiment, if hardly a new one. Lastly, I am by now so very used to The Black Keys instrumentation that I did not even notice there was supposedly a ‘blistering guitar solo’ halfway through until I read a review in another publication; to my mind, the only texture in the song is contributed by the female vocalists who echo Auerbach, Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson.
It’s the kind of tune that made me bob my knee at my desk. I like it, and it’s nice, but I am certainly not wowed.
I hope The Black Keys’ return signals an evolution – to which this is merely a soft launch – rather than a desire to return to our existing musical landscape. The bones of ‘Lo/Hi’ make it feel as if it could be plucked from the discographies of any number of similar artists, most of whom received their shot at prominence in the niche The Black Keys vacated in 2014. It could have been taken off any of their previous albums, and that is not necessarily a compliment. I feel like I have heard this track before, because it is The Black Keys’ familiar elements comfortingly repackaged. This is a ‘summer blockbuster CGI city destruction sequence’ of track. Yes, the spectacle is quite lovely, but – am I meant to be surprised?
‘Lo/Hi’ is available now via Nonesuch Records.