There's no way when I first saw The Black Keys perform to a small, half-empty room above a pub in Brighton shortly after the 2003 release of their second album 'thickfreakness', that I would ever have predicted this latest artistic detour. Anyone who's followed their career and seen them live will know what a force of nature they are on stage, but until very recently the music stayed pretty firmly rooted in the blues. Maybe it was a result of working with Brian 'Danger Mouse' Burton on the 'Attack & Release' album that turned them on to Hip Hop or perhaps they were privately into it anyway, whatever - they've now teamed up with a cracking line-up of authentic Rap aristocrats and produced this gem of an album.
At just under thirty-eight minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome but that means there's not a dull moment here. The slightly old-school rap stylings and Auerbach's finely-judged guitar playing mesh brilliantly and avoid the tiresome cliches that usually abound on other rock-rap crossover projects. There's a sense that these blues boys have a genuine feel for hip-hop and all concerned sound to be having a ball. I might be showing my ignorance of recent developments in hip-hop here but I hadn't heard the rapper NOE before and his similarity to Jay-Z is absolutely remarkable. Another revelation for me is the contribution of vocalist Nicole Wray, who I'm ashamed to say is another artist I was previously unfamiliar with and who brings an extra touch of class to every track that she features on. Also listen out for the excellent Q-Tip on 'Hope You're Happy' which makes me want to punch the air every time I hear it.
This album has single-handedly revived my flagging interest in hip-hop and I would unhesitatingly recommend it to any fan of the Black Keys, Wu-Tang Clan or old-school rap generally. Wonderful stuff!