The Black Keys - Ohio Players

The Black Keys – Ohio Players (Album Review)

The Black Keys 2024

Closing in on their 12th studio album, Indie Rock duo The Black Keys will be releasing Ohio Players via Nonesuch/Warner Records on April 5, 2024.

Looking back, while their 2021 Hill Country Blues covers album Delta Kream took them deeper into their musical roots, and 2022’s Dropout Boogie was hailed as approachable and true to their identity, it is Ohio Players that fans view as a bit of a shake-up. And that seems intentional on the part of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney as they infuse high-grade energy into every track, often breaking into full-blown anthems. As on previous albums in recent years, the duo called on all-star friends to take part in their recording process, and prominent on Ohio Players are Beck and Noel Gallagher. They figure particularly on extra vocals and that group vocal feeling on multiple tracks significantly contributes to the community vibe of the album.

Consisting of 14 songs, the opener “This is Nowhere” was co-written by Beck and is touted as key to the concepts on the album. Easy to see why, it is an absolute declarative statement of intent to relocate away from whatever hubbub or pressure the world seems to be brewing and embrace the idea of “nowhere” as a permanent, and very celebratory, state of being. Sound-wise the track has a warm stoner vibe that is all about the melody. It is both jangly and joyful, even while building an idea around rejection of something-the status quo. Rap-like piled up rhymes help redefine the idea of ‘nowhere’ as being a state of liberation, not just a flyover state.

Though “This is Nowhere” is thematically key, it is the song “Beautiful People (Stay High)” that makes the biggest statement on Ohio Players; this is emphasized by the vibrant official music video. While the previous track is determined to chase happiness, “Beautiful People” is all about finding that happiness and amplifying it to the maximum. This is absolutely a dance number; as the video, which captures people dancing from locations all over the world, emphasizes. Musically, the song is a dense combination of powerful elements drawn from R&B, Blues, Rock, and even Gospel traditions, and is pre-loaded with a sing-along chorus.

While those songs have some elements of sound and tone in common, there are many on the album that pursue their own sound experiments. For example, “You’ll Pay” has a ’60s surfy guitar but deep Soul influences paired with falsetto vocals. Then “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” blends Soul with Pop but sticks firmly to many Crooner and Soul love song traditions, even extending to nostalgic lyrics. Additionally,  “Paper Crown” even brings in Hip Hop accents.

Although, there is return to some of those assertive but feel-good elements from earlier in the album with “Live Till I Die.” With a heavy bass line and an electric guitar groove, its vocals veer toward Psych Rock; a sound which Black Keys fans may welcome back. Unburdened by a specific narrative, the track makes all intentions clear, to live in a way that you are “never coming down” and have a near-visionary experience of a fulfilled life. These are literally aspirations for the high life, pun intended.

Overall, while several of the tracks on Ohio Players make for excellent party anthems, it feels just as important what the songs are not necessarily saying, or do not need to explicitly say – that the pressures and minutiae of a highly conflicted world right now could easily deprive people of any sense of joyousness or fulfillment. They suggest that the most appropriate way to combat this problem is to decide what you really want in life and celebrate it. As an album, Ohio Players deserves top marks, and even among other Black Keys albums, it may have set a new standard. For that reason, Cryptic Rock gives The Black Keys’ Ohio Players 5 out of 5 stars.

The Black Keys - Ohio Players
The Black Keys – Ohio Players / Nonesuch/Warner Records (2024) 

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