There were a handful of nights back in the early 1980's when me and my buddy Gene did little else but sit around in his folks' living room, bliss out on the heat of the woodstove, and listen to Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom and, especially, R.E.M.'s Murmur. I remember being completely amazed at what I was hearing — the weird part being that I had no way to articulate the "why" of the music's greatness. Peter Buck's jangly arpeggios and mashed chords, Mike Mills' hyperactive basslines...these were surely part of the reason I was so entranced. They just sounded very new and fresh, this despite the supposed Byrds influence that I'm sure I didn't pick up on at the time.
It's also amazing to me that I'm here talking about the band so many years later. Longevity is a rare thing in the rock world, and given the direction the band had taken post-Bill Berry, R.E.M. sounded like there was nothing left in the tank.
Accelerate finds the band back squarely where they belong. Buck has rediscovered the electric guitar, Mike Mills is all over the place instrumentally and vocally, and Michael Stipe is singing as though his life depended on it.
There's a good reason why that can of grease appears on 2003's Thickfreakness: that's exactly what the band sounds like. Greased up, fried up, and amplified, the Black Keys sound like direct descendants of swampy blues rock - Junior Kimbrough being one of vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach's favorites, which figured heavily into the first album, The Big Come Up. Later albums find the band mining classic blues rock, with Cream, Hendrix, and early ZZ Top all figuring heavily into the equation.
To give an extra special spin to Attack and Release, the band brought in the hot commodity that is producer Danger Mouse (whose work in Gnarls Barkley could be heard last week with their latest album). But from what I've heard so far, his presence has had very little effect (and that's a good thing, in this case.) It's still the same basic dirty, gritty, nasty blues that'll leave you pickin' chunks out of your teeth for quite a while afterwards.