Release Date: Apr 1, 2008
Record label: Nonesuch
When Jack White hears this amazing Danger Mouse-produced recording by the Black Keys, he’ll thank his lucky stars he’s got the Raconteurs to fall back on, because Attack & Release has just rendered the White Stripes completely irrelevant. Any concerns that the Gnarls Barkley braintrust might adversely affect the riotously raw blues-rock sound cultivated by the Akron duo of Daniel Auerbach and Patrick Carney are unfounded. The gutbucket grittiness is still there, but the Black Keys are working with a much more evolved sense of song structure, dynamics, time, tension and texture, which enables them to update classic R&B and blues in creative ways while maintaining the essential Black Keys thrust.
Back in 2002, it seemed easy to discern which of the Midwestern minimalist blues-rock duos was which: the White Stripes were the art-punks, naming albums after Dutch art movements, while the Black Keys were the nasty primitives, bashing out thrilling, raw records like their 2002 debut The Big Come Up and its 2003 follow-up Thickfreakness. Six years later, the duos appear to have switched camps, as Jack White leads the Stripes down a path of obstinate traditionalism while the Black Keys get out, way out, on their fifth album, Attack & Release. Evidently, their 2004 mini-masterpiece Rubber Factory represented the crest of their brutal blues wave, as ever since singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have receded from the gnarled precision of their writing and the big, brutal blues thump, they started to float into the atmosphere with their 2006 EP-length tribute to Junior Kimbrough, Chulahoma.
The Black Keys' Nonesuch debut, 2006's Magic Potion, sounded a bit diluted and formulaic. Enter Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse, the beat scientist behind Gnarls Barkley, whose shape-shifting production – from the swelling organ of moody opener "All You Ever Wanted" to the backward guitar in the heavy blues of "I Got Mine" – results in the Akron, Ohio, duo's most diverse and subtly psychedelic work to date (just check the flute solo on "Same Old Thing"). Originally conceived as a collaboration to include the late Ike Turner, Attack and Release retains the anguished soul and ghostly chill of its inspiration, particularly in "Lies" and the banjo-laced "Psychotic Girl," while "Oceans and Streams" sways like Junior Kimbrough's Chulahoma.