Will The Black Keys become the new Kings of Leon?

Hot on the success of Brothers and El Camino, The Black Keys are everybody’s new favourite band: El Camino recently debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, their show at Madison Square Garden sold out in 15 minutes and even the unlikely star of the Lonely Boy film clip is enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. 

But although their mainstream success has been relatively recent, The Black Keys are not a new band.  Singer/Guitarist Dan Auerbach and Drummer/Producer Patrick Carney have been churning out their brand of minimalist blues-rock since 2001 and have  amassed an impressive discography, including the indie classics ‘Thickfreakness’ and ‘Rubber Factory’.

Finding mainstream success this far into their career suggests they are in an enviable position.  The Black Keys have a dedicated following that has followed them since the early days of 2002’s ‘The Big Come Up’, plus fans gained from mainstream singles  such as Howlin For You and Lonely Boy.

At this stage in their career, one can’t help but draw comparisons to Kings of Leon shortly after the band released the mainstream hit album ‘Only By The Night’.  Like The Black Keys, the Kings of Leon built a loyal fan base with their brand of Southern-indie rock, which they maintained for several years, before exploding into the mainstream with the singles Sex on Fire and Use Somebody.

However on their next record they tried to sound even bigger and more accessible, however ‘Come Around Sundown’ was met with a collective ‘so what’ by the mainstream, sold substantially fewer copies than previous LPs and was largely derided amongst their supporter base, typified when NME named the video for ‘Radioactive’ as the worst second worst of all time.

Progression to a more ‘mainstream’ and ‘accessible’ sound is often a natural progression for many ‘indie’ bands.  Once finding mainstream success, indie bands try and make their sound as “big” and as accessible as possible.

However, this often alienates their core fan base and is often dismissed by the mainstream crowd. Once the initial hit singles lose their appeal, they inevitably end up sounding like a cheap U2 rip off.

Clearly it is a risk for indie bands to try and sound as big as possible through gambling with the mainstream.  Therefore, if ‘El Camino’ is The Black Key’s ‘Only By the Night’, what should they do next?

Therefore to avoid becoming the next ‘Kings of Leon’, The Black Keys need to go back to their roots and solidify their relationship with their core fans.

Make Blakroc 2

Blakroc was one of the sleeper hits of 2009.  Combining the Black Keys on music and production with a host of hip hop talent (including a beyond the grave Ol’ Dirty Bastard), Blakroc was a rich, layered LP which demonstrated The Black Keys’ musical prowess and showed how the rap/rock genre should be done.  A follow up to this, with a new roster of upcoming and veteran hip hop artists would be a welcome addition to their discography and reinforce their indie and artistic credibility.

Release another minimalist bluesy tribute/covers album

Their six track EP covering the songs of Junior Kimbrough was a fitting tribute to an influential bluesman and introduced his work to a new generation.  Another tribute to a legendary bluesman (e.g. Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf etc), would help them reconnect with their fans who prefer Stack Shot Billy to Lonely Boy.

Get back to the 2 man live show

The Black Keys have always put on an electric live show.  One of the major selling points was the fact that it was just two guys – one with a drum kit and the other with a mic and a guitar with the amps turned up to 11.  However, in order to play their new songs, they have enlisted the help of several backup musicians to play the extra guitar, bass and keyboard parts.

Their core fans would appreciate a return to a minimalist live show with just Dan and Pat, and the new tracks would sound just as good played by just the two original members.

For The Black Keys, clearly less is more.

//Alec Schumann

About AnthonySchumann
Subtle Bravado // Creative Boutique. Ted Anthony - Vision Alec Schumann - Creative Follow @AnthonySchumann

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