What Does The Future Look Like For The Black Keys?

It’s been nearly two years since the Black Keys released an album, 2014’s Turn Blue. It was their first album to debut at number one, yet it failed to capture the public’s attention and imagination like their 2011 album, El Camino, did. There wasn’t a “Lonely Boy” or “Gold on the Ceiling” on it. Turn Blue had “Fever,” but it didn’t have the same anthemic impact.

Since then, the band has been relatively quiet. Singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach recorded an album with a new band, the Arcs, while Patrick Carney did…well, other things. He got into a Twitter fight or two (something he has a history of doing) and even possibly a real fight, threw out the first pitch at a Cleveland Indians game this year and continued to host his own show on satellite radio once a month. Recently, both members of the Black Keys were at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, inducting Steve Miller, walking away from it feeling a little too much like GOB Bluth. It felt like the first time in a long time that the two of them have been seen together and it started to make us think about the group’s future. Uproxx’s John Hugar and Ryan O’Connell elected to suss this one out.

Ryan O’Connell: Hey, John, don’t the Black Keys kind of seem like they’re just a distant memory now?

John Hugar: Kind of. Turn Blue had a few great songs on it, but I haven’t listened to it in about a year. Plus, Auerbach doesn’t seem to really be focused on the band anymore. He’s got the Arcs, and he’s got his producer gig. I don’t know, I suppose this sounds like the typical hipster “abandon a band once they get famous” sh*t, but I can’t help but think the Keys have had their moment. I certainly hope I’m wrong, though.

ROC: The problem with Turn Blue was that it was them getting away from what they do best: tight, blues rock songs. They could come back, but it’ll depend on what the album sounds like. Will the first single have the punch of “Lonely Boy,” the lackluster shove of “Fever,” or will they venture back into swamp rock territory like they did with Brothers, which might be their best album? And yeah, I wonder about Auerbach’s commitment. Dude’s got side hustles now and I wonder if he’s still interested in the Black Keys, especially given the limitations that come with a two man band.

Do you ever wonder what Carney thinks of Auerbach’s producing or his work with the Arcs?

JH: I could totally see Carney being pissed about what Auerbach is doing. And the thing is, I can’t really blame Dan for wanting to get away from him. I don’t know what he’s like in the studio, but man, he’s always starting feuds. One day it’s Nickelback, the next it’s Justin Bieber. I just get the vibe he’s kind of a prick.

One thing I’ll say about Turn Blue — it wasn’t *that* bad. Not great, but I did like some of it. Weirdly enough, I actually thought “Fever” was one of the better tracks. It could have fit on El Camino.

I could see the Arcs becoming Auerbach’s main gig, with the Keys slowly drifting apart. Much like you, I’m hoping we see the band come roaring back with a Thickfreakness style punch. But I worry that the band’s best days are behind them.

ROC: Oh, Pat definitely seems like a prick. We all know a Patrick Carney. We all can’t stand a Patrick Carney. I think he enjoys being a dick and getting into social media dust-ups with people. I will say this, though, I like Pat’s drumming. I like drummers who make sense with the music they are playing. It’s why I’m a big Ringo fan. Ringo knew his job, knew where he fit. Pat’s the same way. He gets that his job is to hold down a beat; fill in some of the spaces left there by Auerbach.  Good rock drummers are blue collar workers, not doctors or scientists. Patrick Carney is incredibly blue collar.

JH: I’ll definitely give Pat that and completely second your point about Ringo. For all the jokes about him; even Paul saying he’s “not even the best drummer in the Beatles,” I always thought his drumming was tight, and perfectly complemented the music.

But back to the Keys, I think Dan has figured out that he can work without Pat, and that might ultimately lead to the dissolution of the band. I could see them pulling a White Stripes; their last album came in 2007, but their official breakup was in 2012. The Keys maintain that “Oh, the Keys will do a new thing eventually.” Then one day there’s a breakup announcement and you think “oh, I didn’t know they were still together.”

One interesting thing about the Keys: they broke out at the tail end of rock radio’s post-grunge sludge-fest, and I think that helped in the short run, but hurt long-term. At the time people who maybe weren’t into indie stuff, but were sick of the radio heard “Tighten Up” and thought “oh snap, a band that doesn’t sound like Three Days Grace!” That made the Keys very popular. Eventually people who had previously liked Nickelback were listening to the Keys.

ROC: What might come first, a new Black Keys album or a new Arcs album?

JH: The Keys have made some incredible music, yet that name carries a lot of baggage and expectations now. Auerbach is probably sick of it. For that reason, I’d probably bet on a new Arcs album — or maybe a solo album — coming first.

ROC: Did you ever hear the solo album Auerbach did? It’s really good.

JH: Actually, no. I’ll have to check that out.

ROC: It’s good. It came out in 2009 and I think, don’t quote me on this, Auerbach did it without Carney knowing about it. Carney was injured or something. So Auerbach recorded a solo album and I don’t think it went over to well when Carney found out. I remember thinking that it was the first indication that Auerbach was looking to do more.

What happens to Carney if Auerbach decides to pull the plug on the Black Keys?

JH: Hmm…I mean, if nothing else, he’s a high-profile drummer, and as you said, actually pretty underrated at his job. I could see him catching on in some other band, a super group type of thing. The one issue is that his reputation might precede him. There would be a “who wants to work with that guy” vibe. He’d probably have to clean up his act.

ROC: Yeah, but he’s like Liam Neeson in Taken. He’s not someone who can fit into a bunch of different bands seamlessly. And with his reputation he’s a tough sell. If the Keys were to break up, I just can’t see him in another band.

I see the Black Keys doing at least one more album. I’d give it a year or so. Dan Auerbach seems like one of those musicians who are a song-writing factory and needs outlets. The Black Keys are a particular outlet. It lets him play music that he wouldn’t necessarily play with the Arcs — just like the Arcs lets him play music that’s not Black Keys’ music. But if they do take another year or two off what kind reception would they get when they come back? I’d be stoked, but I’m not sure how many other people would be. They definitely had a moment when they were America’s Rock Band and had that belt, but have most of their fans moved on?

JH: Hmm… I think some of their fans have moved on. I mean… it’s not like no one would care about a new Black Keys album. But yeah, they’re definitely not as big of a deal as they were in 2012. Hmm…a new keys album in 2017? I think if they get back to what makes their best albums great, I could see it getting some love, but I think it’d be more likely to just blend in with the current scene.

I would say there are two possible outcomes:

A) Auerbach moves on from the Keys, and makes the Arcs and solo work his main gigs.

B) The band hangs around, but never touches their 2010 to 2012 peak.

ROC: I’ll take C, all of the above. A new Keys’ album would generate some buzz and there’d be some hype, but…well, I don’t know. I think their best days are behind them. I think the Arcs have a pretty dope future, though.

JH: Yeah, I think so. I’ll second that the Arcs have a bright future, but the Keys will probably never match their 2004 to 2011 run.

ROC: I say one more Keys album, Auerbach sticks with the Arcs, drops some solo albums, Carney becomes a DJ on SiriusXMU.