You know that guy who always claims The Beatles invented everything? I can hear his haughty voice now, "The White Album anticipates everything from Sabbath to the Sex Pistols to R.E.M." Well, as much as it pains me to write this, that dude's kinda right.
Somewhere after Hendrix and before Korn, rock started running out of new ideas. But this isn't a bad thing. There are still plenty of good ideas, just not many innovative ones. Enter The Black Keys.
A blues duo composed of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Pat Carney, The Black Keys are one part Zeppelin I, two parts Cream. Which is to say they've basically made an educated guess as to what Robert Johnson would have sounded like if he'd lived to go electric and hire a drummer.
"Are we a blues band?" asks Carney with wonder and sincerity. "I think our music has more rock in it than blues. I think we're more dirty rock 'n' roll. But we're not trying to reinvent rock music. We're just trying to make music that sounds like us. It's cool when bands do try to push the envelope or whatever, but that's not what were trying to do, you know?"
Carney is unable, or unwilling, to dig any deeper into the why The Black Keys' sound is so derivative yet totally rockin'. That's it. They're just trying to sound like themselves.
Rock bands succeed two ways: they break new ground (The Beatles, Floyd, Radiohead) or they rock so fucking hard that they make doing the same old thing seem like they break new ground (the Stones, AC/DC, the Keys). Recently, rock's two factions were placed back-to-back when Radiohead had The Keys open up six shows on this summer's quick-fix American/Canadian tour.
"It was odd, but it made sense. We're totally musical opposites, but, as they say, opposites attract," says Carney. "We actually got a better crowd reaction from the Radiohead fans than from the fans when we opened up for Sleater-Kinney and Beck. Maybe that's just because the Radiohead fans are so psyched to see Radiohead, I don't know."
No, he knows. In fact, he's nailed it. A guitar blast like the Keys' "Just Go to Be" off their new album Magic Potion bears a striking resemblance to the guitar grind of Radiohead's "Electioneering." Yet, they're still total opposites. Radiohead are computer dorks using multi-million-dollar studios and Macs to hone their guitar attacks. The Keys are old-school dorks whose recording studio is held together by string and chewing gum.
After recording 2004's Rubber Factory at a professional studio, the duo retreated back to Carney's ramshackle home studio for Magic Potion.
"Some of my equipment is really nice, and some of it's really shitty, and some of it's broken," says Carney. "It's kind of the bare essentials you need to make a record that sounds good. But I guess we've made some good records on really shitty equipment."
Like a good blues record, Magic Potion doesn't add anything new to the world. It could have been recorded a day after, or even a year before, Rubber Factory. It could have been recorded in 1967 or 1935. But that's beside the point. When your talent is power chords and blues scales, you stick with a sound that works.
"We don't feel the need to drastically change anything, you know?" says Carney. "We just need to write some songs that all go well together."
The Black Keys play at House of Blues, 9 p.m. on Sept. 15. $20. 619-299-BLUE.