An American guitar and drums duo dealing in raw, stripped down blues, originally championed by the late John Peel. Sound familiar?
Comparisons with The White Stripes may be a tad lazy and obvious, but the similarities are inescapable. They came to the fore in 2001, around the same time as Jack and Meg, but while The Raconteurs‘ front man became the virtuoso guitar icon of a generation, The Black Keys were left behind. With the track Girl Is On My Mind, from their 2004 album Rubber Factory, currently being used in a Sony Ericsson advert, perhaps the time has come for them to gain some widespread recognition.
Well, that’s the idea anyway. The problem is, it ain’t gonna happen with this record. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it as such, but you’d have to be pretty excitable to get worked up about any of the eleven tracks here. It all just sounds a bit worthy: plenty of effort and passion, but with woefully unspectacular results.
They’ve always been hampered by a similarity to their influences- namely Led Zeppelin and The White Stripes – and that shows no sign of changing here. Sure, those bands are great influences to have if you can channel their sound into something new and equally powerful, but The Black Keys really struggle to do this, and just end up sounding like a pale imitation.
There’s a fine line in this kind of music between the pounding, brutal genius of, say, Led Zep’s Immigrant Song, and the likes of Modern Times on this record. While the former sounds like nothing else around nearly 40 years after its release, the latter sounds like pub-rock stodge. The same elements are in place: the riff, the thumping drums, the bluesy howl, but The Black Keys are incapable of transforming this into anything beyond a loose-sounding jam. Robert Plant himself is a fan, maybe because they work as proof that his band’s achievements are almost impossible to recreate.
It’s not all doom and gloom, as Magic Potion isn’t entirely without redeeming features. Dan Auerbach’s voice is always soulful and menacing, and when the riffs are mighty enough to match it – as on opener Just Got To Be – they do briefly break free from the shackles that come with trying to sound so authentically bluesy and weathered.
Sadly, these highlights are fleeting, and as the album progresses, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish between one song and the next. An attempt at a ballad with You’re The One is a relatively successful softening of their sound, showing that they are capable of subtlety, and signals a potential change in direction.
Other than that, there’s little here that’s any different to the three preceding albums, and nothing likely to build on Girl Is On My Mind’s crossover success.