If there’s one thing you should know about yours truly, it is that I am a huge music fan. And I don’t mean I just listen to music and like it. No. I’m a student of music. I listen, obsess and learn from music. Whenever it is brought to my attention that there is buzz behind a certain album, act or song, I like to go in depth, analyze and absorb whatever it is that makes the project click. So when The Black Keys released their new album “Turn Blue” back in May, I took on the challenge of absorbing the Ohio-based duo’s new record, and boy was I blown away.
This eleven-track album was by far the best album I’ve heard in quite some time. The Keys outdid themselves in my opinion. “Turn Blue” was psychedelic, fun and experimental, but more than anything else, artistic. The Black Keys ascended to another level with this album.
However, upon reading a few reviews online by fans, my praises weren’t supported. It surprised me to see how many people complained and suggested that the blues rock group had “gone pop” on everyone, “lost their way” or even “sold out.” Many people bashed this album, demanding that they return to the style and recreate the sound that made them so famous on previous records, such as “Brothers” in 2010 and “El Camino” just two years later. All of these factors brought me back to a question I keep asking myself: Are people too critical of modern music?
I’ll be the first one to admit that modern music is disgraceful, to a degree. I mean, look at the current state of music; rock is dead, hip-hop/rap is lacking artists and meaning, pop music is as bland as ever, country is country and EDM is where it is at, apparently. Yet, there are a lot of great acts in music that have been getting a negative light from “music fans.” In the case of an act like The Black Keys, they release back-to-back albums (“Brothers” and “El Camino”) of high quality and yet, some people claim their albums were “good” not “great.” But these are the same fans that when they hear an album such as “Turn Blue” detest it and demand for them to go back to their days of “Brothers” and “El Camino.” It is essentially a lose-lose situation for not only groups like The Keys, but quite a few others as well.
Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys’ lead singer and guitarist, made a point regarding the duo’s album writing methods stating in an interview, “Every time we make an album we try something new. We don’t just want to recreate something we made before. It’s like a cop out, it’s just boring. We just want to make a good album.”
Allow me to build off of that point, because the methods he shared in that interview with The Weekly Feed are pretty common amongst many musicians within the industry. Most musicians would rather explore as many musical paths as possible in their quest to achieve a status of being an artist because there is a fine line between being a musician and being an artist. When listening to modern music, I hear some very talented acts that hold the potential to become an artist, yet face that fan criticism where they are compared to their genre’s top names. An example of this would be Kendrick Lamar, who shot to fame with his 2012 hit album “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” which drew much praise for its conceptual nature and even drew comparisons to the 1994 classic hip-hop album “Illmatic” by Nas.
The comparisons have valid arguments and pose some credibility, yet the tired act of throwing Kendrick’s name in the conversation with legends like Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Nas and Eminem is what seems senseless. Kendrick is only 27 years old, just hitting his peak, and is relatively new to the mainstream rap spotlight. Why not let the kid drop a few more hits, and develop longevity before being weighed with his hip-hop predecessors? This goes for many musical debates. Why throw Ariana Grande’s name in the same class as Mariah Carey when she hasn’t even hit her prime? Why call Justin Timberlake the next Michael Jackson when we know that spot will never be filled? More than anything else: Why not allow musicians to form their own identities and let music evolve?
The Black Keys have ascended to a status amongst artists with this masterpiece of an album. Kendrick Lamar has tapped into a bright future that could potentially lead him to the top echelon of all-time greatest hip-hop/rap artists. Justin Timberlake has evolved into his own brand of superstar artist. But don’t compare these artists to people they can never be. Don’t tell them to stop evolving and expanding creatively just because you can’t accept when a musician changes it up. An end all to being a musician doesn’t exist, but the journey for most musicians is to adapt and change with the times. The journey is to tap into sounds that could be revolutionary, that could be looked upon in 10 to 20 years as a game changer. The journey is to make an impact in music that stands out from the rest. The journey is to be an artist. So why not let it be?