The news that Noah Abrams is making a ‘buddy movie’ documentary about The Black Keys’ extensive El Camino world tour arrives as a tantalising invitation into their enigmatic world. Wouldn’t we all like to peer into the madness that surrounds a band still caught in the whirlwind of its first major success? Then again…
The Black Keys have hitherto traded on a relative sense of anonymity. The artwork of breakout album ‘Brothers’ (simply a black square with, “This is an album by The Black Keys. The name of this album is ‘Brothers'” cheekily emblazoned across it) left the physical appearances of the duo unknown, as did the artwork of the mega-selling ‘El Camino’. 2008’s ‘Attack and Release’ was the last time their fizzogs graced one of their covers, and, before that, it was 2002’s ‘The Big Come Up’. Patrick Carney said in a December interview with The Guardian, “We went out last night and only two or three people recognised us at a hip bar in Camden. I love that.” Here, it seemed, was a band content to keep schtum while, if you’ll excuse the cliché, the music did the talking.
“We’ve never given a shit about image, and generally hate people who do,” singer Dan Auerbach added in the interview. Here is a band which spent eight long years plying its trade and releasing albums under the radar before the world decided to take notice. The positive effects of this autonomy are evident for all to see in their current success, and, while the band themselves are anything but secretive or taciturn in interviews, there’s a tantalising sense they’re still holding something back. They’re generally interviewed separately, so the intricacies and dynamics of the duo must be gleaned from their interactions on record and on stage. There are still things we don’t know about them. They’re still something of an enigma. Still…intriguing.
Noah Abrams is a friend of the band, so it’s clear they haven’t been cajoled into appearing in the film by unscrupulous, cigar-chomping record label moneymen; it’s clearly something they are interested in doing, because, if they weren’t, they wouldn’t do it. They’re not helpless puppets of a selfish and baying media – these are two sensible, reasoned blokes in their early thirties with seven albums under their belts. Perhaps they’re simply ready to finally emerge into the spotlight that eluded them for so many years.
But do we really want to know too much about them? Certainly, prying eyes never lessened the mystery and allure of the ultimate musical bromance, Pete and Carl – if anything, the extra attention compounded that relationship’s doomed, melancholic romanticism (and, indeed, spawned a documentary of its own) – and there’s also the sense that the vast majority of those who will watch the Black Keys film will be established fans of a band in whose success they’ve all had a large part to play, all of whom will see a brief porthole into the dealings of the Ohio duo as a form of thanks.
Because, while there’s no fear that the film will reduce The Black Keys to Some Kind of Monster-esque effigies of wibbling self-parody, there’s still something unsettling about examining and picking at the magic of a band which may better be left unpicked. As Noel Gallagher so eloquently put it when speaking to The Daily Mirror, “The not knowing and the anticipation of what you don’t know is just incredible. It must be better than knowing everything about everybody.” With every extra bit of information, is some of the indefinable magic of music and the artists that make it lost?
If the film helps The Black Keys achieve success above and beyond that which they would have had otherwise then that will be a good thing and nothing less than they deserve, because they’ve paid their dues and – crucially – do come across as an entertaining pair in whose company to spend a couple of hours. But there’s something to be said for retaining a little bit of mystery in rock and roll.