Published: June 14, 2012
It’s really hard to not like the Black Keys.
In some ways, our hearts just go out to them. They look like the kind of guys who always got picked last for kickball during recess (I bet 4th grade was a bitch for both of them). If you imagined their faces endorsing a food in aisle 6 it wouldn’t be a candy bar, but probably just a jar of pickles or beef gravy. If you saw them hitchhiking on your nearby highway you may even swerve to hit them – just for the sport of it.
So yes, we like the Keys because they started at the bottom and now it seems like you can’t go 45 minutes without hearing a tidbit of one of their songs on TV (or somebody trying to sound like them). In 2012 the Black Keys have become the next household name. With that success brings about change and the reaction of the Black Keys to that change is the tipping point on how they are viewed for the next 5-7 years by hipsters, bros and every other sect that knows everything (or screws everything). So Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney at a major crossroads, whether they know it or not. Do they want to be the next R.E.M.?
Do we really need gold on our ceiling?
For those of you old enough to recall, R.E.M. along with The Smiths, were arguably the coolest fucking college band of the early and mid-80’s. Well, after a slew of tremendous indie releases, R.EM. signed off on the big time deal and made two albums that transformed them into the biggest band in the world at the turn of the decade in 1990. Their major label album Automatic For the People in 1991 established them as the next Beatles of their time. But faster than you can say I’m losing my religion, R.E.M.’s influence and reputation nose-dived for the next 20 years. We got bored with R.E.M. and they just simply didn’t know what to do next. The 2012 Black Keys are at the same crossroads that R.E.M. was in back in 1991.
So, without further adieu, we are here to save the Keys. Because we need the Keys, more than they need us. And we see them in the same shoes as R.E.M. We’re even polite enough (without them asking us amazingly) to help them via an easy-to-follow 5-step process that we’re certain they will absorb with true vigor. That’s why we love them.
Step 1 – Who are all these fucking people Patrick??
Yes, that’s what Dan should be saying. Advice:
Nothing wipes you off the face of the good reputation planet than playing in front of 12,000 frito lays that are mixed in with the 900 fan club members down by the pit. Play the small clubs. Book the small venues for several nights. Nothing bigger than a 1500 capacity club or at most, a 3000 seat theater. Fuck those posers who swing through Macy’s on their way to the arena. Stay intimate with your fans. That sounds snobbish yes but we sympathize with the diehard fans who have one shot to see Dan Auerbach and they’re stuck behind the bipoloar nimrods holding the two tallboys in Section GG, row 65 in seats 38 and 39.
Step 2 – Who are these other people on our stage Dan?
Only two players on stage.
Their names should be Patrick and Dan. You don’t need a 4-piece band. You’re a two piece band. Don’t sell yourself as two and then bring out 4 or more onstage. You sound just as great with just the two of you as you do with the four. Show us that you can do 10x more with two than Nickelback could do with 15. If you want to have a 4-piece band then record and sell yourself as a 4-piece band. And yes, we know that a lot of other bands bring extra members on stage, but there is something very special about a 2-person setup. Don’t mess with that.
Step 3 – Why are you in my studio?
Don’t collaborate with anyone other than each other.
When you’re awesome the way you are, stay that way. Don’t be Coldplay and duet with Rihanna. Don’t be Jack White and duet with Alicia Keys. Don’t ever collaborate again with GZA. Desperate collaborations signal a lack of confidence that you can come up with something innovative on your own – or you can’t say ‘no’. Successful collaborations rely more on luck. You’re too great to rely on luck. If you want to make a new sound with some other artists then record those songs, create a new band name on the side like you did with BlackRoc and release an EP. Don’t fuck with the greatness. Don’t fix something that isn’t broke.
Step 4 – Let’s try that chord with a flute!
Your next album (after El Camino) needs to be entirely innovative and remarkably great.
We’re not suggesting selling the amps on eBay and the guitars on Craigslist. But without reinventing yourself you can guarantee every subsequent album you release will be compared to El Camino or every other album you’ve created thus far. The status quo will send you into a downward spiral. You can dig your heels in and make another album that sounds like the others but you’ll piss away that edge you have. Look at three of the most successful and adored bands in the past 50 years (The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead). What did they have in common? They reached the top, they innovated and reinvented themselves tremendously and stayed among the elite. They made albums like they didn’t care if they sold 3 copies or 3,000,000 copies.
Step 5 – Isn’t it time for you to go home yet??
Break up in about 5-7 years.
The greatest bands have a lifespan of about 12-15 years, max. Make 3 more albums and call it quits while you’re young, and go do something else great with someone else. Start over and leave the wonderful Black Keys catalog behind while it’s still great. Don’t make albums that chip away at your legacy. Don’t make albums past your prime. Don’t become a tribute band to yourself. That’s why God created Van Halen to do all of those stupid things so you don’t have to.