The Black Keys, “Lonely Boy”

Written by November 7th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

(PHOTO: Jo McCaughey)

There was a time when the Black Keys seemed like they might be just another two-member, two-word band from the Midwest. Then came Brothers. On the eve of the album’s release, we missed the chance to put the Akron, Ohio duo on the cover of this magazine. (Alas, we repent.) But, digging deeper, the signs were well in place even before the sprawling 15-song collection of songs on Brothers. There was Keep It Hid, the delectable solo album from Dan Auerbach in 2009. There was the group’s first collaboration with Dangermouse in 2008’s Attack And Release. In fact, the band’s entire catalog of skronking minimal blues for Fat Possum surely foretold of a great future (if not also a fascinating past).

But who really could have seen what awaited the Black Keys? Everywhere you turn it seems like 2010 and 2011 have been a new era of The Black Keys: Saturday Night Live, Letterman, iTunes album of the year, and three Grammys. But, never merely content with just being on top, Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney moved shop to Nashville, set up a new studio and cranked out El Camino. Less than a year and a half after Brothers was released, the new album will hit stores. Nice work, boys.

But, El Camino, created even within that whirlwind of success – and recorded without the band’s typical six-month break between albums – turns out to have been a heavily work-intensive project. “We were in the studio for 41 days,” Auerbach says in our Nov/Dec cover story. “But it was off and on. We’d go on tour, come home for a week, go out on tour again, come back for another week. It took longer than any record we’ve ever done. And everything – everything – was labored over.”

The writing process, like the rushed recording sessions, also occurred on the spot. For El Camino, Auerbach and Carney shared actual writing duties with Brian Burton, aka producer Dangermouse. The trio would work each day from scratch, finding hooks or riffs and quickly developing lyrics and arrangements.

The fact that the band worked on-the-fly for the new album (not with any preconceived songs in mind) actually makes a lot of sense. Production has always seemed to drive the band’s songwriting. Often the “feel” of the riffs seem to dictate a song’s meaning, more so than the kind of clever “songwriter’s songwriting” you might associate with Nashville.

In an interview in July 2010, Auerbach talked about the evolution of the band’s recording process – from a digital multi-track that Carney owned when they first started the band to Auerbach’s latest obsession with vintage studios like Robin Hood Brians in Tyler, Texas.

And the first glimpse of El Camino, the single “Lonely Boy,” which will be released as on 12” vinyl backed with “Run Right Back” for Record Store Day on November 25, shares an energy field with songs like “Next Girl” and “Howling For You” from Brothers.

Over a characteristically blistering guitar riff and primitively funky drum beat, Auerbach sings about love gone wrong: “You pulled my heart out/ And I don’t mind bleedin’/ Any old time you keep me waiting.”

So who is the lonely boy Auerbach is singing about? At one point Auerbach alluded to writing Brothers‘ “Next Girl” as a sort of reaction to a difficult breakup Carney was going through. But, he later told NPR, “it wasn’t about his breakup.” Instead, he and Carney channeled the angst and frustration of that real-life experience into the recording process of the song. Sounds about right.

But maybe trying to look too deep into the Black Keys’ lyrics is a kind of inevitable failure anyway. Their lyrics never try to do too much, and Auerbach has a gift for pumping out simple, often slightly ambiguous, love songs in the same fashion that the Stax and Motown tunesmiths of the ‘60s tackled themes (mainly, love) that they felt would hit with the radio-listening public. (Often, they slipped in a few of real potency, too.)

So, in other words, sit back and enjoy the show. Watch the pretty amazing video for “Lonely Boy” too, which probably has nothing at all to do with the song, if precedent tells us anything.

“Lonely Boy”

Well I’m so above you
And it’s plain to see
But I came to love you
Anyway
So you pulled my heart out
And I don’t mind bleeding
Any old time you keep me waiting
Waiting
Waiting

I got a love that keeps me waiting
I got a love that keeps me waiting
I’m a lonely boy
I’m a lonely boy
I got a love that keeps me waiting

Well your momma kept you
But your daddy left you
And I should have done you
Just the same
But I came to love you
Am I born to bleed
Any old time you keep me waiting
Waiting
Waiting

I got a love that keeps me waiting
I got a love that keeps me waiting
I’m a lonely boy
I’m a lonely boy
I got a love that keeps me waiting

Written by Dan Auerbach, Patrick Carney, and Brian Burton



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