It’s always a curious thing when a member of a well-known band decides to step out of the band and do a solo album. There are several reasons to do so. Sometimes, like Pete Townshend, the performer feels the songs are too personal to record with the band and so decides to do it alone. Sometimes the members of the band just need a break from each other. That was the onus of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Mr. Bad Guy,’ an album I still feel was a bad idea, despite the adoration of critics. The cover art could be considered Freddie’s declaration that he was gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that…it’s just that we never suspected, but that’s another story. Getting out on his own helped recharge Freddie and the resulting music he made with Queen seemed reinvigorated. And let me be clear, I’m a huge Freddie Mercury and Queen fan.
There was a time when audiences weren’t sophisticated enough to understand a “solo” career coinciding with a band they loved. The thought of a Beatle stepping out on his own surely meant the end of the band. Well, OK, that one might have been true. Rod Stewart was the first artist who really seemed to pull off the parallel solo/band thing. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year. Although to be truthful, the solo stuff and the success he saw there overshadowed the Faces stuff and eventually tanked that band. And, in truth, Rod had already signed a solo contract before joining the Faces so he really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Other early notable solo careers outside of a band would include Phil Collins at the height of Genesis’ popularity. Some might say Collins’ solo career helped fuel the success of Genesis… but Phil Collins, really? Even I feel like that’s a reach for this blog.
Nowadays, solo careers are pretty much the standard. Yes, they still sometimes mean the end of a band you love (I’m talking to you Gwen Stefani of No Doubt). Most of the time it’s just a chance for an artist to step outside the strictures of working with the same people, and maybe expand their musical palette. Having spent the last week or so listening to ‘Waiting On A Song,’ I can definitely say that is what Dan Auerbach has done. Of course, I’ve had to select my moments when I can put this album on… The Rock Chick is not a fan… I can only listen when she’s not around… and I’m supposedly “the head of the household…” but I digress.
Both the Rock Chick and I are what I would describe as “casual” fans of the Black Keys. I liked their early blues-punk stuff. I’ve always thought of the Black Keys’ early stuff as somewhat monochromatic, which isn’t a bad thing. Consider Picasso during his “blue period.” I thought the high point during that part of their career was the LP ‘Rubber Factory,’ an album both the Rock Chick and I both enjoy. I will say, in subsequent albums the Black Keys did open up their sound quite a bit. ‘Attack And Release,’ a favorite of the Rock Chick, incorporated a number of new sounds and directions. That’s one of the things I’ve really liked about the Black Keys, they keep expanding sonically. I think all of that came to beautiful fruition on their best album, ‘El Camino.’ I will admit, ‘Turn Blue’ left me decidedly cold. I did not like anything on that record. I seem to like every other Black Keys album.
I was aware that Auerbach had already released a solo album previously, but I’d mostly ignored that. Even if I’d listened to ‘Keep It Hid,’ I don’t think that or anything would have prepared me for how different ‘Waiting On A Song’ was than Auerbach’s day job. This is a shimmery, summery, light, upbeat 70s style record that in places borders on soul music or R&B. I heard the first single “Shine On Me,” reviewed here on B&V, and really liked it. It’s what the kids call, “my summer jam.” It’s all acoustic strumming with electric guitar accents. I still just love that tune.
With the Black Keys, it now appears to me, that the caveman, Meg White-like drumming of Patrick Carney drives the sound. Which, I know the Black Keys used to be considered a poor man’s White Stripes, and likely I risk Jack White punching me in the face with the Carney/Meg comparison, but oh, well, there it is. Auerbach couldn’t sound further removed from the Black Keys sound than he does here. There is a diversity of sound, and a difference that astounds me. With Carney behind the kit, Auerbach has to play a more aggressive, loud guitar as counterpoint.
With ‘Waiting On A Song,’ where to begin…. “Malibu Man” sounds like something from a 70s Bobby Darin album. It’s a great tune, all shimmery pop. “Livin’ In Sin,” a phrase I haven’t heard since my father forbid my uncle from sharing our guest room with his live-in girlfriend, now my aunt, is a great song. But even that phrasing, “Livin’ In Sin” has a 70s feel to it. This whole album feels like an homage to shiny, happy 70s rock and roll. “Never In My Wildest Dreams” is a beautiful little song, which starts out sounding like Jack Johnson. I never thought the guy behind the Black Keys would sound like Jack fucking Johnson, but it works.
The last track, “Stand By My Girl,” may even outpace “Shine On Me” for my favorite. He sings, “I’m gonna stand by my girl, because if I don’t she may kill me…” Which could be my theme song here at the house. “King of A One Horse Town” starts off like a funky, porn-movie riff, and then turns into a longing, sweetly sung chorus. It reminds me of my time living in Ft Smith, Arkansas… talk about your one horse towns…
I know Auerbach has worked with a wide selection of different artists. He’s clearly brought all that back with him into the studio for ‘Waiting On A Song.’ The title track is all about creating new music, which this guy does in spades here. I really like this record but be forewarned, this is nothing like the Black Keys. This is light and more pop-oriented. Frankly it’s a perfect album for summer and laying out by the pool with a cold beer in your hand, watching tanned bodies stroll by. Which frankly, doesn’t sound like a bad idea….Turn it up loud and be sure to use your sunscreen.