They’re not exactly an act you love or despise, but The Black Keys have proven quite polarizing to critics, fans, husbands, and wives. That’s why with “Fever”, their first single in over two years, we gathered a roundtable of critics and musicians to offer their own two-cents. After all, Turn Blue marks their eighth album to date, so we figured they deserve a second opinion or a third, or a twelfth.
I used to love The Black Keys. I distinctly remember listening to them in my bedroom senior year of college and just feeling cool. They seemed to sum up the blues, grunge, country, and rock that I had been seeking from various sources all into one neat equation. Dan Auerbach plus Patrick Carney equals music I wanted to hear. But then, it got a little old. Like a lot indie rock, it just kind of wore out. Maybe it’s because Auerbach was producing like half of every other record that was coming out, or maybe, the band was just leaning a little too much on the same sound.
So “Fever” feels like a welcome change of pace for the band. If the duo were previously down in the groove, the new single feels like a break from their bluesy grit. It’s whirling and psychedelic, still jamming out for long stretches but in a circular fashion instead of a linear one. Danger Mouse helped the pair helm their new record Turn Blue, from which “Fever” is the first cut, and his fingerprints on the track are clear in its whorls. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking. Maybe I’ve simply outgrown The Black Keys? I like the song, I don’t love it, and I hope to be more impressed by what comes next. Grade: B
Joey Siara, vocalist and guitarist for The Henry Clay People
“Fever” is fine – a fine enough single from a giant rock band of relatively normal and apparently really nice dudes. Not sure what kind of tunes I want to hear them make. This one never really induces much of a fever. It drives steady with that universal BPM of the soul for the first two-thirds. The final Interpol(ish) third fails to prove its necessity. Solid production as per usual. Still, I remain happy that nice dudes can be rock stars. Grade: B-
David Brendan Hall, Editor-in-Chief for Lyynks
If “Fever” represents an attempt to hammer home a message declaring a new direction for the Black Keys, it’s telling us that the Akron-bred, Nashville-based duo is no longer interested in “guitar music.” The days of mind-blowing solos are clearly long gone, now replaced by a robust bass line and quirky keys that dominate to the point of drowning out any remnants of Dan Auerbach’s disappointingly dull axemanship. Not that Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney didn’t already begin a significant metamorphosis with much of 2011’s El Camino, but the intent looms larger with Danger Mouse helming production for this record. Brian Burton is known for his lush layers, but, at least on this song, the stacked elements are overwhelming: backup vocals muffle what little sensuous soul Auerbach exerts during choruses, and copious spacey effects make this tune feel more like a Broken Bells B-side than a quintessential Black Keys track. Grade: C+
The only way to react to “Fever” is with a shrug. The first single off one of the most anticipated rock records of the year pales in comparison to the Black Keys’ out-the-gate efforts of the past, and though it’s a perfectly fine single that shows off Dan Auerbach’s wall-scaling wails, it’s just that: fine. “Fever” doesn’t have the heartbeat of “Howlin’ for You” or “Tighten Up”, and it doesn’t have the raw rip of “Lonely Boy” or the enthusiasm of El Camino that catapulted them from your secret favorite band to an arena-headlining act within an album cycle. Great production and approachable hooks aside, “Fever” doesn’t tread on new or updated territory save for beautiful din of a breakdown in the final seconds of the song. Here’s hoping Turn Blue holds more surprises down the line beyond a couple of strings and instrumentation shake-ups. Grade: B+
Like most Black Keys songs, this one sounds almost like it’s blatantly ripping something off. I swear that synth line is in some movie driving montage. Sunny California highway, convertible, bouncy synths — I’m definitely not just imagining this, right? Am I just thinking of “Take On Me”? Is it secretly a Cure song? Is this the Black Keys doing MGMT? This is going to drive me crazy. It kind of reminds me of “You Really Got Me.” Is it by Wham!? What are some Wham! songs? I don’t know. But I think it’s good because even if that synth line is familiar, this is actually really distinctive as a whole. The pseudo-new wave thing is a welcome look, considering the Black Keys are probably the biggest band in the world that have never made a recognizable song (sorry, I do like them, I promise).
“Fever” seems like it could be a big single for them. You can definitely sing along to this. You can definitely get hyped if that synth line comes on at a baseball game. This is going to slay in car commercials. And you know what? It sounds like the Black Keys because it’s still got all those swampy blues guitar licks in the middle, and it also sounds like nothing else the Black Keys have done because of that big instrumental ending. “Fever” gets my vote of approval. I know that there are probably lots of fans who would like to see the Black Keys never evolve, but personally I’m all for change. Grade: B+
Zach Hart, Co-Founder of We Listen For You
The Black Keys are once again confirming that once you reach the point of worldwide notoriety, playing it safe is part of the fame. “Fever” is not daring enough to be emotional or passionate enough to be memorable. The track works just as The Black Keys and their “team” planned it: a nice toe tapper for their loyal fan base without any risk of isolating a single listener by taking a chance. As time moves on, it seems like a dull knife is The Black Keys’ weapon of choice. Grade: D
Melvin “Mel” Honore, bassist for Cerebral Ballzy
It’s blatantly tangent from the bluesy vibes I think they’re known for and that’s great. The hook has a semi-creepy vibe that’s ok to flirt and dance with, like a distant third or fourth cousin you’ve met only once before, who is now of age. B- for dressing her up with the intent to fool me. Grade: B-
Kenneth Partridge, Freelance Writer for The A.V. Club, Village Voice
The Keys have a fever, alright, and there’s only one cure: more Danger Mouse. Those early drum-and-ax albums were pretty great, but the world needs psychedelic rollerskating music, and Dan Auerbach, Pat Carney, and Brian Burton might just be the guys to give it to us. Or wait, how many people are in this band now, anyway? Grade: B
Philip Cosores, Director of Aux.Out.
Honestly when I was given this task, I was a little confused as to why people cared so much about a single when the album came out already. But, though the psychedelic imagery the song is presented with (via YouTube) is business as usual for the flower punks, the song sounds like it was produced by Danger Mouse or some shit, which would also make sense given the band’s past exploits with Mark Ronson and Patrick Carney. But yeah, it sounds like a hit more than any of their more garage rock material, and giving the song significant attention seems warranted when it’s this much of a step up. Grade: C+
Andrés Velasco, lead guitarist for Rey Pila
The song’s intro immediately reminded me of “Repetition Kills You” by The Black Ghosts. Although I think I prefer the Ghosts’ version than the Keys’ version. Wait a minute…that would make for a nice showdown on Celebrity Deathmatch: The Black Keys vs The Black Ghosts, both duos, tag team action…
Slick production by Danger Mouse as usual, although not much of a departure from El Camino. I feel you can’t really expect radical changes in sound and style from album to album when it comes down to a two-piece, or can you? Good trademark Black Keys cut all in all, I think it will do well, at least on Mexican radio.” Grade: B
Michael Roffman, Editor in Chief of Consequence of Sound
I’m in the minority here, but I actually prefer the latter era Black Keys, specifically Brothers and El Camino. So they know how to make delicious rock ‘n’ roll! They figured out a way to sell a genre that has one of the worst blue book prices on the market. And what’s more, they don’t sound like this, or this, or this, or this. “Lonely Boy”, “Gold on the Ceiling”, and “Tighten Up” are three incredible singles that stick to your gums with flavor and purpose.
“Fever” attempts to evolve this recent string of success, and almost gets there, but the end result is something that’s ultimately too vanilla. This would be a third (maybe fourth) single off their last two albums, and while the synth line is certainly catchy, and the guitar feels stripped off a promising Spoon demo, Auerbach can’t shake up a vocal melody beyond “Fever got me guilty…” and it boils down as repetitive and mundane about a minute or two in. Not awful, but now I’d rather listen to Rubber Factory. PS: Ditch the Mouse, dudes. Grade: C-
Chris Denney of Denney and the Jets
My Mama said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Grade: N/A