The Missing Ingredient

Magic Potion (V2 Records)
The Black Keys

By John Bohannon

The Black Keys have consistently strived to keep the electric Delta blues alive. Up until recently, they have done a commendable job. But their major label debut on V2, Magic Potion, falls short of the number one ingredient within that potion - passion. Although the songs still tear the paint off walls live, the Black Keys fourth studio record comes off as contrived and ultimately falls short of their previous releases.

On first listen, the vast majority of the record sounds like they put too much thought process into making more of a "record." Now, I'm not quite sure if this is the major label pressure to deliver something or get dropped, but the reason these guys got signed in the first place is because every record they made came off with the feeling of the ease it took to make it - and that feeling used to rub off. But on Magic Potion, the distinction between songs is very little. Turning from song to song is just about as entertaining as flipping from dial to dial on the radio these days: the same ol' damn thing. And the most discouraging part of this is the fact that they just released a beautiful tribute EP to Junior Kimbrough less than a year before the release of Magic Potion, which showed more promise than possibly anything they have done in their entire career.

The Keys have always paid homage to the Mississippi Delta and the Chicago Electric Blues, but this time, with the exception of "Just Got To Be" and "Strange Desire," it's hard to tell what exactly they are doing. At times they seem to be influenced by the indie rock surroundings they have found themselves dabbling in, with amateurish songwriting and humdrum guitar licks, most dominantly found in "You're the One." The first single off the album, "Your Touch," shows about as much promise as a high school battle of the bands.

What pains me the absolute most is how good this band has been consistently for the past four years (with the exception of '05), leaving us with something to keep a spirit alive in a genre that's experts are either dead or lie few and far between. Their debut The Big Come Up was one of the better records of the decade and it showed originality in the blues genre, a genre many people have claimed somewhat dead. (I would like to clarify by saying that the genre is dead doesn't mean it's "gone" per say, but it's just being reiterated with little change).

Hopefully, either they go back to making records that present their live element like they had been in the past, or go balls-out and make a full studio record the next time around. This sounds like a half-assed studio recording or live record - and I know the Black Keys have much more potential. Magic Potion just proves it's not an undying potential.

Get more at www.theblackkeys.com.