Album Reviews: Magic Potion by The Black KeysThe Black Keys straddle the line between accessibility and inscrutability. On one hand, their more boisterous blues-rocking numbers have such heavy hooks that they've become rather hot commodities for commercial producers. On the other, the Akron, Ohio duo is continuing to perfect its ominous, lo-fi edge, capable of an ache too heavy and a thunder too raw for the mainstream pop-rock crowds to whom they could surely pander.
Magic Potion brings more of the Keys' unique brand of piss and vinegar, but also finds singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney taking another step away from the "blues band" pigeonhole. In its place -- or, more accurately, set alongside it, as the Delta's juke joints still leave clear fingerprints -- is a more straight-up rock sound, along with some psychedelic colorings (the hazy ballad "You're The One"). One constant: The giant riffs come early and often, starting with the accessible "Just Got to Be" and then the hormonal "Your Touch." Magic Potion gets a little cloudier later -- to positive effect -- as on the slow-burning "Goodbye Babylon" and the minimal but evocative "Elevator."
The Black Keys returned to their basement studio for this record, and they allay any concerns that they'd go hi-fi because of their new connection to a major label (Warner's Nonesuch). Carney, pulling double duty behind the boards while he wages a savage assault on his drumkit, keeps Magic Potion squarely in the band's established comfort zone, which means that they leave their seams showing. Lo-fi, though, doesn't mean that the Keys aren't technically accomplished; their new material is meticulously crafted, and wholly their own. Cue up any stretch of Magic Potion and it's clear which band is on the speakers. The flipside is that their songs sometimes bleed into one another, and they still have ample room to expand their boundaries.
"I don't want to go to hell, but if I do…it'll be cuz of you!" Auerbach groans on "Strange Desire," a churning blues beast that is one of the album's standouts. Taken alone, the lyrics are seldom exceptional, but Auerbach delivers them with such gutty authority that they become powerful (and sometimes vulnerable) declarations. He and Carney have knelt at all the right altars, and Magic Potion, while not jaw-dropping, is another step toward building their own. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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