"I'm finding it increasingly difficult to listen to any music that was recorded past 1971," Dan Auerbach, of the prolific duo Black Keys, recently said when talking about his first solo album. If you find yourself nodding in fervent agreement to that statement there's a good chance you'll adore the stubbornly retro Keep It Hid": if not, you may find it admirable, beautifully crafted but, finally, limited.
Certainly the creaky opener Trouble Weighs A Ton is an inauspicious start, adhering so stiflingly close to journeyman blues formula that you wonder why you don't just cut out the middle man and listen to Robert Johnson directly. Fortunately, following songs are as much passion as pastiche, with Auerbach flexing his remarkable multi-instrumental muscles, playing guitar, drums and keyboards with equal fire and flair.
There are two outstanding highlights, both displaying very different sides to Auerbach. The first is the swampy, distorted Heartbroken, In Disrepair, its shuddering, multi-tracked guitars a close cousin to Johnny Marr's bravura performance on How Soon Is Now. The second is the spare, folky Whispered Words, with its elegant, keening riff and yearning vocal.
Elsewhere, Keep It Hid sounds unquestionably authentic, but a little too studied to be truly loveable. Mean Monsoon boasts sizzling guitars but a hoary, hackneyed melody, while the squalling My Last Mistake sounds like it's been lifted directly from mid-period Fleetwood Mac. The slurring, snarling Street Walkin' is rather better, building up a heady, heavy atmosphere, like a night on absinthe in New Orleans.
Keep It Hid proves both Auerbach's extravagant musical abilities and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the blues beyond any doubt, but it also proves that he still has no intention of letting anything new seep into his musical world. A shame, because unless he does he will remain more curator than true creator, for all his gifts. --Jaime Gill
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