For a band so firmly rooted in authentic southern blues, The Black Keys' "Attack and Release" is an experiment. The album integrates punk, metal and country into its traditional style, and on most tracks, a big, cinematic sound takes the place of previously intimate, lo-fi recordings. For the most part, their exploration is a success—the album explores new sounds and effectively integrates them within a blues framework, producing several stellar tracks as a result. But the album is also strangely ordered, each new song differing dramatically in production and sound from the preceding track. And despite the innovative aesthetics of some songs, others are quite banal, clothed in the familiarity of the band's former sound, but lacking the vitality of former hits.
The album opens in its dullest moment, lazily clomping along to the country-blues of "All I Ever Wanted." Just before the song ends, an organ drone swells, as if to tell listeners the album is starting now. Almost on cue, the authoritative rhythms and familiar blues shuffle of "I Got Mine" begin.
Up next is the polished single "Strange Times," an ironic production choice with grizzly, metal-style guitar riffs and clomping percussion. The song would fall under the generic rock category if not for its exceptional chorus, where string-like guitar chords beckon, and eerie electronic sounds swirl overhead.
The haunting accessories continue on "Psychotic Girl," an inventively crafted journey through distant, tinkering piano and lazily plucked banjo. "Lies" has a slow blues burn that builds into a soulful chorus with heart-wrenching organ drones. The story plays on a familiar blues theme of love and deception, but with better lyrics and vocal authenticity. Lead singer Dan Auerbach bitterly cries, "You said the moon was ours, to hell with the day/the sunlight is only gonna take love away/raise up suspicions and alibis/but I can see through tear blinded eyes." Other album highlights include the ghostly blues lilt of "Oceans and Streams," the spellbinding '50s rock ‘n' roll of "So He Won't Break" and the sadly pensive alt-country of "Things Ain't Like They Used to Be."
"Attack and Release" would be an exceptional album with a little editing; but as it stands, it is frustratingly disjointed, a good album with many outstanding tracks and a few irrelevant, boring ones. Lucky for us, the good far outweighs the bad.