“DD Review: The Black Keys – Ohio Players.”

Score: 10/10

One of the heartbreaking things to me about this new Black Keys release, Ohio Players, on which track one is entitled “This is Nowhere”; is that the Black Keys’ place of origin of Akron, Ohio is actually really beautiful. It’s located in Ohio’s Eastern half, among a copious litany of rolling hills and mountainsides which nest the kind of trees and vegetation you won’t find on Colorado’s Rockies, for certain. 

Well, maybe the song is about Columbus, a place beholden to the type of plainness that seems just astronomically singular, a place laden with thin, non-landscaped blocks and endless droves of stoned people serving gas and fast food, a place where girls act stuck up not out of bona fide antipathetic disposition but just for sheer lack of things to do or talk about. (Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Columbus, or Ohio, or the girls there, but there is, I think, in that place, the sense of being “in the middle” in the sense of a median identity crisis yielding a lack of character, similar to how Cleveland’s John Popper talks with a sort of eerie lack of any accent whatsoever [1].)

By this same token, The Black Keys, overall seem like an act with a spellbinding penchant for letting identity crisis govern their modi operandi. I could have sworn they were fro Jackson, Mississippi, on the strength of their commercial breakthrough Rubber Factory (2004), giving way to El Camino (2011), an album packed full of songs that can play in Hooters and that sounded more like Rick Springfield playing with The Rolling Thunder Revue behind them. 

And Ohio Players seems like nothing if not the commensuration of an identity crisis, with the gamut of soft pop to stiff, abrasive grunge (think El Camino) all represented, all upon Dan the Automator’s hip-hop minded production. (Appropriately, as this often sounds like a record produced by The Dust Brothers, Beck appears on track “Paper Crown.”) It’s perfect, too, because if you truly live in “nowhere,” you’re not bound to any prefabricated rules or guidelines. 

And so we get “Paper Crown” and its midway-through tempo truncation, precipitating a funky groove for rapper Juicy J to beat up with some good ol’ horny tomfoolery, and for Dan Auerbach to splash onto in the form of some swampy, warbly blues-rock guitar. What’s really haunting, too, and great, about this album, is that rockers like “Read Em And Weep”; which struts straight ahead in roughly the vein of one of the more methodical Queens of the Stone Age numbers and gives way to killer surf-rock guitar frilling in the spirit of Dick Dale or Gein and the Gravediggers, and the grunge-via-reggae “Fever Tree”; can rock ahead with such confidence and purpose, as if this were the band’s m.o. the entire time. Ohio Players is a bona fide rock album just sitting there daring you to try to say it’s not a hip-hop album — it’s living proof that rock and roll will never die. 


[1] Again, just to cop, I’ll go to my grave loving John Popper, for Blues Traveler work and also his excellent solo tune “Home”; and also in general for the fact that I usu. try not to be too much of a Sadistic bastard, and stuff.