Wednesday, July 9, 2014
John Hiatt VS. The Black Keys
I thought I'd get right on the horse with a few words about the recently released "Turn Blue" from The Black Keys and "Terms Of My Surrender," John Hiatt's new one due out on the 15th of July. I listened to both yesterday. The Hiatt, twice actually.
I've liked the Black Keys since their 2002 debut "The Big Come Up." The duo always felt like a less annoying and more effective White Stripes. Raw blues at the core, but cannier and more musical. The band peaked with 2010's "Brothers," a psychedelic, soulful trip to Muscle Shoals that never abandons the rawness of the band's earlier achievements.
John Hiatt's 1987 masterpiece "Bring The Family" is one of my favorite records of all time. But unlike Hiatt's devotees, I do not swear by every one of his 263 records. I like a lot of them, but I find the period from 1993's "Perfectly Good Guitar" to 2005's "Master Of Disaster" incredibly uneven, with 2003's "Beneath This Gruff Exterior" as the only true stand-out. But then came 2008's "Same Old Man," and the return of Hiatt's mojo and his last two "Dirty Jeans & Mudslide Hymns" and "Mystic Pinball" are now right up there after "Bring The Family" as faves.
What's the point of comparing the Black Keys new one to John Hiatt's new one? Isn't it apples and oranges, you might say?
"The Terms Of My Surrender" is the closest Hiatt has gotten to a straight blues record. While it's not completely barebones, the songs are basic. Acoustic guitar and harmonica at the core, but by no means an acoustic record, Hiatt's new one offers some of his best lyrics in the simplest setting. Songs like the country-folk of the"Wind Don't Have To Hurry" and the front porch strumming of "Nothing I Love" are both taken to a slightly higher level...like most of the songs here... by adding just the right brushstrokes of backing vocals, or hammond organ, or swampy drum grooves. Just when you think you've been served a Howlin Wolf retread, Hiatt and his band surprises you in the best of ways, like on the gospel shuffle "Old People," with my new fave couplet:
"Old people are pushy/they don't have much time/they'll shove you at the coffee shop/And cut ahead on the buffet line."
It's not all tongue in cheek, as Hiatt can still break your heart, as he has done so many times in his career. This time it's in the album closer "Come On Home."
Oh yeah...The Black Keys.
From the opening seconds of "Turn Blue," I was hooked. It didn't matter that I was listening to a rip of "Breathe" by Pink Floyd. I liked what I was hearing from the Black Keys. 20 minutes later, I was scratching my head, wishing a song would start, because at this point, The Black Keys have given nothing but texture. Swirling sounds, reverb, whooshing and whirring, lots of bells and whistles, but basically, not much else. This is the very problem I have with so many bands of the last twenty years: records released that lack songs and only reflect their record collections.
I would have loved to hear the Black Keys take on Pink Floyd, at least in sound and spirit, but the difference between "Dark Side Of The Moon" and "Turn Blue" is the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing one.
Now, hold on! "Turn Blue" isn't necessarily all about sounding like Pink Floyd. On the contrary, it's really only the opener. This doesn't matter, because everything else on the record sounds like something else. The only thing that remains consistent is the lack of melody. The record is a bore. Too much of a lot of nothing.
The Black Keys have been getting a ton of press as of late, both as a band and individually, with Patrick Carney spewing his mind about anything and everyone from Justin Bieber to Jack White, and Dan Auerbach producing the new record from Lana Del Rey.
John Hiatt is just doing his thing. Again.
If Hiatt could have borrowed a little hype from the Keys and the Keys could have borrowed a little restraint from Hiatt, maybe "Terms Of My Surrender" would end up all over magazine covers and "Turn Blue" might have been more substantial.
Buy the Hiatt! It's a keeper.
Let me know what you're hearing that I am not, if you listened to "Turn Blue," because what I heard isn't calling me back.