First of all, with this Black Keys band, no offense meant to them but I still can’t believe they’re HEADLINING the Let’s Rock tour this summer with Modest Mouse. That is, we’re talking about a band in Modest Mouse that completely took over the world in ’04 and did it with organic, original rock and roll complete with a quirky vocal and personality. To this day, though my Mouse listening habits have slowed down from last decade (actually I got into them three months before “Float on” came out so I barely made the cut there you might say) I still consider them markedly the better band, with their having amassed a staggering catalogue of understandable, catchy songs that are also poetically imagistic and generally just full of ingenious lyrics. Both bands are comparable, anyway, for being very bare-bones: Modest Mouse is a trio of singer/guitarist Isaac Brook, bassist Eric Judy and Jeremiah Green and the Keys boast just singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Pat Carney, save for a few spare guest performers in the studio noted here and there. Anyway, I imagined that must have happened is that they just looked at sales of the last record and gave the headlining slot to the heavier seller, with the Black Keys actually having splattered some pretty listenable tunes onto 2014’s Turn Blue, an album out on Nonesuch, the subsidiary of Warner instead of their original indie imprint Fat Possum, and proviso of all of five singles.
So anyway, I’ve really been trying to get into The Black Keys more. I mean, I’ve met people who are like fanatics of this band, this one real preppy dude out in Colorado even writing their name on his hand when he heard that they’d planned a show nearby. This must have been circa Attack & Release, of all albums.
They’re never especially BAD but the end of the day I have to say I wouldn’t necessarily describe them as the most ORIGINAL band ever. I mean, as far as that Rubber Factory album goes, which first got me into them, it was REFRESHING in ’04 in that no other band was doing that CURRENTLY — no other rock unit within said specific Strokes/White Stripes/Bloc Party garage-rock revival had so fervently tackled the blues and done so with such unflagging persistence on EVERY TRACK like that. The Keys even chose an old Delta traditional handled also by Captain Beefheart (“Grown So Ugly”) to show you they were hardcore. But still, it was late-era Muddy Waters being sung by white dudes. The first song was in the blues scale, utilizing blues riffs all throughout, as was I think the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth and just about all the rest, with very few stylistic anomalies there or anywhere else which would absolve this project from being able to fit into the Mississippi Delta, or the south side of Chicago, circa 1955.
One notable exception to this would of course be “10 A.M. Automatic,” probably the album’s biggest single, which though retro SOUNDING at least has some Apollonian rock CHORD CHANGES and bright spots which just makes you think their songwriting playbook contains more than just a slide guitar and some Copenhagen snuff. Another would be “The Lengths,” which was supposed to be the primary subject of this post (hey at least it’s titled right).
Just to get to the point, I noticed something strange when tossing and turning last night I was trying in my mind to reconcile the fact that Modest Mouse is OPENING for this band… I mean I don’t want to say it’s as bad as Hole being on Rolling Stone’s greatest grunge albums list and not Soundgarden – Down on the Upside, but it triggers that exact same module of anger in my cerebrum which I’m hoping one day won’t generate a tumor on it. The way it’s looking now, things aren’t looking too good. I was trying to at least be able to willfully examine any of their albums and be able to look at them as classics, which in my opinion you can with Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West, The Moon & Antarctica and even We Were Dead before the Ship Even Sank. The most promising candidate of the Keys would probably be Rubber Factory (please comment bit**ing at me if I’m wrong here). It would require, however, and not to sound grim, but an omission of the song “Just Couldn’t Tie Me down,” which though listenable is
barely so, so obstinately adherent to that selfsame blues pattern the band lays its hat on and calls its shtick, all throughout.
And then, of course, what’s our problem then: “The Lengths” is track six now, and not track seven.
Why does that matter? Scoff! How can you even ask that? It’s numerology my friends. I would say that just off the top of my head, this particular case corresponds with the bible and God’s day of rest, which was the seventh day of the universe (which I don’t really get ’cause once the universe was created didn’t he have its entire existence to rest during, until it entered a black hole or whatever) and would obviously then allot the rule of there being seven days in a modern week. In sharp contrast to the busy, riffy “Girl is on My Mind,” “The Lengths” is slow, languid and reflective, possessive of this beautiful, soft but undeniably pungent melancholy — one of the three best songs on the album without any question along with “10 A.M. Automatic” and “All Hands against His Own. ” Anyway, I’m telling you: it wouldn’t be as good if you moved it down to six. Seven made it good, dude.
I was thinking around to other poignant track-sevens out there. Third Eye Blind had a knack for the seven slot, on their first two albums (the only two albums with guitarist/songwriter Kevin Cadogan on them and so really the only two that matter): “Thanks a Lot” and “An Ode to Maybe” giving way to the bland or anticlimactic successors of “Burning Man” and “The Red Summer Sun.” And then even though both of these Third Eye Blind track sevens rock, in a sense, it’s also almost like a rest because they’re so COMPLETE — it’s like a resolution has been reached. They’re tough acts to FOLLOW, as is proven in both cases, both because they’re so good and because again they’re so conclusive, final, distinctive, as if on this track seven already runs the overall governing emotion which is to define the specific LP as a whole. Then let’s look at Everclear’s “One Hit Wonder,” in my opinion the best song on their best album, which gives way to an instrumental, “El Distorto de Melodico.” Not only is the latter an instrumental, and I mean it kind of rocks but it’s INTERCHANGEABLE — it could literally step in as video game theme music, and to be honest I remember hearing a similar theme song to one of the wrestlers on like WWE Raw or something like that, around ’98 or ’99 or so. Whereas, there’s never been another song like “One Hit Wonder” and there never will.
Then how ’bout Wilco and “Heavy Metal Drummer” there. I don’t think anybody would doubt that that’s the masterpiece. By comparison, the next song, track eight’s “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” is arguably just a satyr song completely, with its cursorily earnest reinstatement of what’s already been established as an absurdity by the album opener, the tongue-in-cheek statement that “I’m the man who loves you”. In “Heavy Metal Drummer,” conversely, we get true honesty, that da**, the guy’s just sad, and misses the good ol’ days. Nothing feels right in this current present: his love keeps entering and exiting his life, both in physicality and feeling, apparently, but it’s always the music itself he’ll have to go back to, which is why it occupies the poignant “seven” slot. All through ’90s alt-rock, I can’t think of a single track seven that isn’t sort of centerpiece in some way, with “Fitter Happier” I guess being a notable exception although you’ll also acknowledge that that song is DISTINCTLY Radiohead and not in any way interchangeable with a chunk of another band’s catalogue like a “Just” or “Paranoid Android” might be, at least to a slightly increased extent. With this current increasingly singles-dominated format we’re in today, I fear we’re getting away from this numbers game just a little, but hopefully this post will prove that there’s some compelling force to it, if you just pay attention and let its precocious powers really work their magic.