The Black Keys – ‘Ohio Players’ review: familiar rock bangers with help from Noel Gallagher and Beck

The Black Keys – ‘Ohio Players’ review: familiar rock bangers with help from Noel Gallagher and Beck

On ‘Ohio Players’ The Black Keys are stuck between stations, trying to tune into the freewheeling spirit of the hits that sculpted them while also maintaining a sound that has made them one of the most bankable, popular rock bands on the planet. It’s a noble experiment that eventually serves to underline the fact that surrounding yourself with new faces doesn’t mean you can escape the one that stares back at you from the mirror every morning.

Here, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney call on a cavalcade of big name friends — from Beck to Noel Gallagher and Juicy J — in pursuit of a loose, fun-forward sound that reflects loose, fun-forward collaboration centred around in-person jams and “record hangs” where old 45s would get a workout. It’s a lovely idea on paper, but the reality is more nuanced.

Playing music with your pals isn’t a radical act – it’s what most musicians do and the bedrock of any scene in any city the world over – so given the fanfare the listener might reasonably expect ‘Ohio Players’ to hum along on the star-wattage of its guest list. Instead, this is a pretty good Black Keys record that chiefly serves to underline how wedded they are to the fundamentals of their own process.

There are some great songs here and, perhaps unsurprisingly, most of them hint at the potential found in skilled musicians allowing outside voices to shape their playing. ‘Paper Crown’ is a smashy Beck-ified roller accented by Juicy J’s verses, while ‘On the Game’, a live-from-the-floor recording made with Gallagher in London, is a honeyed guitar jam. On the woozy ‘Candy and Her Friends’, Memphis horrorcore great Lil Noid slips in at the midpoint to lend it a dead-eyed coda that serves as one of the LP’s few genuine surprises.

The record’s title is pointed, referencing the Black Keys’ roots in Akron and, more importantly, the legendary funk ensemble of the same name, who might have taken a run at ‘Beautiful People (Stay High)’’s bassline with pyrotechnic results. But unlike the Ohio Players’ kaleidoscopic palette, where every instrument was given space to flex, the treatment here is crunchy and maximalist.

It feels like it’s about impact over depth, tamping down flyaway elements into a homogenised whole that more closely resembles last year’s ‘Dropout Boogie’ than any of the seven inch singles that got an airing during the writing process. The Black Keys might have a killer record collection but ‘Ohio Players’ is the work of a band who are perhaps too good at being themselves.


Release date: April 5, 2024
Record label: Nonesuch Records

The post The Black Keys – ‘Ohio Players’ review: familiar rock bangers with help from Noel Gallagher and Beck appeared first on NME.

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