Sometimes, more is really more. For five albums, the Akron, Ohio, duo The Black Keys has done impressive work, drawing mainly on loud guitar riffs and brute force, with a touch of inventiveness.
On "Brothers" (Nonesuch), singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney take a whole new approach, a broader one that proves to be even more effective than the raw, blues-oriented one they have used for years. Working with hip-hop and R&B stars on last year's Blakroc project has stuck with them, leading to a new interest in bass lines and soulful vocals that suits them well.
"Everlasting Light" kicks things off with a surprise, as Auerbach adopts a sultry falsetto for the gospel-tinged lyrics that play nicely against the soulful backing vocals and the chugging guitar and bass. There's a breeziness to the Danger Mouse-produced single "Tighten Up" that balances the intense drum work and retro-soul guitar, giving it that retro-futuristic vibe that Gnarls Barkley does so well. And the faithful cover of Jerry Butler's "Never Gonna Give You Up" shows how recording at the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama seeped into Auerbach's delivery.
These excursions don't mean The Black Keys have abandoned their original sound, still around in "She's Long Gone" and "Unknown Brother," but they have added so much to it that we never knew it needed. "Brothers" isn't just the best Black Keys album yet, it's the album that will introduce them to a brand new world of fans.
The Black Keys open for Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden Thursday.