Dan Auerbach has been on something of an experimental course for the past decade. Deviating long ago from the rough and ready blues-rock of his early work in The Black Keys, the records he’s been involved with since 2008’s ‘Attack And Release’ have seen Aurbach genre-hop with ease and fluidity. It hasn’t always paid off – The Black Key’s most recent effort, 2014’s ‘Turn Blue’, didn’t quite hit the mark – but generally it’s worked well and has certainly kept things varied.
Going solo for the first time since 2009, Auerbach’s latest is a buoyant, summery collection of pop-songs that sits in stark contrast to the earthy blues of his solo debut, ‘Keep It Hid’. Where that album traded in a more dejected, forlorn version of scuzzy blues rock he made his name with during the early days of The Black Keys, ‘Waiting On A Song’ sees Auerbach explore a love of vintage-pop that he hasn’t kept secret so much as simply under-explored.
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There have certainly been hints at his love of classic pop songcraft on past works. The Black Keys’ 2012 effort ‘El Camino’ saw the band explore a polished, hooky brand of rock that was unashamedly accessible and no worse for it. With ‘Waiting On A Song’, Auerbach takes the same ethos and examines it through a new sonic palette. The flavour here is unmistakably that of classic, unpretentious ’70s pop and it’s a record that harkens back to an age of folk-tinged power-pop hit machines like Wings and Steelers Wheel.
Auerbach channels these influences into a surprisingly authentic and convincing package – ‘Waiting On A Song’ is blatantly the work of a man who has studied his influences with a passion bordering on obsession. Everything from the subtle warmth of the analogue spring reverb to the sound of the drums and twanging guitar points to a record of a 45 year vintage. Indeed, if you played the album to someone unfamiliar with Auerbach’s voice or past work, you’d forgive them for taking the album to be the bonafide thing. It’s genuinely impressive to hear the meticulous detail that’s been put in to gaining the album’s retro sound and one that definitely works in the favour of the album’s simple but honest songs.
Lyrically, ‘Waiting On A Song’ is nothing too profound – here Auerbach places emphasis on melody rather than deep lyrical meaning and – for what the album aims to be – that’s fine. Choruses are particularly favoured here, with many songs boasting utterly instanteous swells of melody that practically beg you to sing along within your first listen. Singles ‘Shine On Me’ and ‘King Of A One Horse Town’ particularly standout here, already strong vocal lines reinforced with strings, synths and even toy xylophones.
Though never anything less than solidly enjoyable, ‘Waiting On A Song’ does have a few weaker moments. The genteel folk-pop of ‘Wildest Dreams’ is a little on the fey side and suffers from a far less memorable tune than the innately melodious stylings of much of the album. Though certainly not suffering from a lack of hooks, ‘Stand My Girl’ makes too much of too little to really stand out in a generally compelling set of songs. ‘Living In Sin’ deviates from the mostly ’70s inspired aesthetic towards a modernised version of stomping pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll; it’s not the strongest cut on the album but no slouch either.
Generally, though, it’s a respectable and consistent set of songs that has a lot to offer those who can appreciate the power of a simple, punchy pop-rock song. The glistening, high-drama strings and swirling backing vocals of ‘Malibu Man’ give it the same psychedelia-lite feel that permeated so much ’70s rock, its a soaring chorus the definite centerpiece to the song. The slinky funk of ‘Cherrybomb’ skirts around it’s sexual subject matter in the same way that any song with an eye for the charts had to a few decades ago. There’s nothing stopping Auerbach from being more forthright than his own determination to stick to the stylistic boundaries of the genre explored on ‘Waiting On A Song’, but it’s a charming quirk of the album’s vintage-outlook rather than a sign of needless meakness.
Today, there’s something of a stigma to the term “pop-rock”, but ‘Waiting On A Song’ is an album which does a great job of reminding listeners why that hasn’t always been the case. Too rock to be outright pop and too pop to be outright rock, there’s little else to label the album but it’s none-the-worse for it. Indeed, ‘Waiting On A Song’ is a satisfying, well crafted record that resolutely harkens back to the past but has enough innate quality that it can still appeal to those more interested in the present.
‘Waiting On A Song’ is a record that was made at the right time in Auerbach’s career. Long established enough that he has his own musical identity fully figured out, with ‘Waiting On A Song’ Auerbach has created a record that rarely uses it’s influences as a crutch. Although it’s not hard to see where Auerbach has drawn inspiration, ‘Waiting On A Song’ comes off as a very genuine and enthusiastic love-letter to a bygone era of pop music rather than a cheap throwback. Although ‘Waiting On A Song’ is not the deepest work Dan Auerbach has ever done, it is some of the most effortlessly enjoyable and definitely his best work of the last five years.