It is without any hesitation whatsoever that Culturespill anoints Attack and Release the rock album you’ve been waiting for–eleven tracks of exceedingly lo-fi retro grit that doesn’t strangle you with the phony bombast of cookie-cutter Stones-lite acts like Jet, a band of such intolerable pretense that Pitchfork felt compelled to publish a review of their last album that consisted of nothing but video of a monkey pissing into his own mouth. We wholeheartedly endorse those sentiments.
Plenty of monkey piss passes for “rock” these days, when in fact it’s the bubble gum snapping in your teen sister’s mouth as she blogs on Facebook about all the bitches who flirted with her boyfriend in school today. And that’s why every primal moan and sneer Dan Auerbach delivers throughout Attack makes this not only the finest vocal performance of the man’s life, but the most compelling rock ‘n roll we’ve heard since the Stripes put out De Stijl, back before they became the band whose shows you took your frat buddies to just to torpedo each other head-first into the stage and say you were seen there.
Though Gristmill’s painfully cliched assertion that this is a “breakthrough” album for the Keys is as terrifying as it is wince-worthy–please, not another fucking Geico commercial–still it’s awfully hard to disagree. I don’t know how else to put it: this is one hell of a record. Attack and Release exhibits a surprisingly innovative flare for a band whose reputation so thoroughly confines them to the analog wasteland they’ve explored since 2002’s The Big Come Up and its two brilliant follow-ups, Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory (sorry, but Magic Potion kind of sucked.)
The Black Keys, “Strange Times,” Attack & Release, 2008
While tracks like “I Got Mine” or “Strange Times” deliver exactly the kind of scorching “attack” the title promises, it’s in the album’s departures from that familiar terrain that its vision achieves the range of true rock pioneers. The lilting twang and echo of “So He Won’t Break” vaguely echoes some great lost gem by surf-rock gods The Ventures, a flutter of piano and xylophone (yes, xylophone) dressing Auerbach’s dreamy licks in a rich jewelery of sound. The acoustic and countrified “All You Ever Wanted” exudes the effortless mojo of rock staples like “Sway” or “Torn & Frayed,” and the album closes with an absolutely devastating ballad, “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be,” a spare and hypnotic gut-wrencher that’s bound to show up again on our year-end “Top Ten Songs of 2008″ list.
This ain’t your mother’s rock ‘n roll–or, then again, maybe it is–and maybe that’s why it sounds so fresh. Rock ‘n roll hasn’t sounded this real since the night Keith Richards woke up in a hotel in Clearwater and recorded what he heard in his dreams–the riff that became “Satisfaction.” But the point is that Attack & Release embodies as much of the spirit as the soul of rock ‘n roll, pausing for a slow jam and unplugging the amps whenever the urge strikes and producing work that’s as compelling as any driving rocker the Keys have ever put to wax.
Rubber Soul laid the groundwork for this expansion of the band’s sound, exploding with the belch and wail of an acoustic guitar (“When the Lights Go Out”) that picked up where their idol and bonafide blues badass Junior Kimbrough left off. It’s no wonder that not even Kimbrough’s own widow, Mildred, was surprised when The Black Keys released their neglected but brilliant 6-track EP of electric Kimbrough covers, Chulahoma, an album she endorsed in a recorded telephone call the Keys included on the EP itself (keep listening after the last track.) The unfocused but sporadically entertaining Magic Potion continued this nod to experimentation with the mildly psychedelic “You’re the One,” a ballad in which you can almost hear the echo of Tommy James’s “Crimson & Clover” somewhere in the distance. But only now have those glimpses of a broader sound blossomed into the full fruit of Attack and Release, the best rock album 2008 is yet to produce, bar none.
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