Indie Music

The Black Keys: Ohio Players review – a little soul, a little lush, less magic

In the early 2000s, the Black Keys were celebrated in indie circles for Thickfreakness: their breakthrough second album and a useful descriptor of the Akron, Ohio duo’s sound, a grungy, almost obscenely visceral take on 60s garage and soul. By the turn of the next decade, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney had entered the Grammy and Billboard chart-buttressed rock mainstream. Singles such as Tighten Up and Gold on the Ceiling – which watered down their trademark guitar sleaze and paired it with earwormy choruses – gradually entered the pop cultural ether, becoming the type of songs you know even if you think you don’t.

On their 12th album, the Black Keys themselves seem like the opposite of that: a band you think you know but might actually struggle to get your head around. Ohio Players is a real mixed bag in style, quality and intent. A lush, magnetically melancholic cover of William Bell’s 1968 classic I Forgot to Be Your Lover proves the pair still have soul to spare – an impression reinforced by gratifyingly grimy throwback Please Me (Till I’m Satisfied). They keep one eye on their new establishment status with dumbly repetitive yet cleverly catchy songs including Beautiful People (Stay High) – co-written, like half the record, with Beck; the other guest songwriter is Noel Gallagher, for some reason.

The duo also make room for classy experimentation, adroitly merging jangly blues with languid hip-hop on Paper Crown. The gaps are filled with a series of sunny Beatlesque numbers that feel lightweight and often rather inane. It’s an all-bases approach that doesn’t feel so much like an identity crisis as a slightly underwhelming diffusion of the band’s once heady magic.

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