If there’s one thing the Black Keys don’t have (besides a bass player), it’s an identity crisis. Five albums in, and you pretty much know what you’re getting from the Akron duo with each release — muscular and svelte blues. Even when they Keys bring in a hired gun to expand their sound — like they did with Danger Mouse on 2008’s Attack & Release — their music still sounds almost exactly as does on their 2002 debut, The Big Come Up.
So it should come as no surprise, really, that guitarist Dan Auerbach’s solo debut, Keep It Hid, plays like a Black Keys album with a few sub-par genre experiments tacked on. A faint tinge of bluegrass informs the big, sappy closer, “Goin’ Home.” The weepy “When the Night Comes” appropriates the style of rock that Ben Harper has used to headline festivals, removing any trace of Auerbach’s trademark authority. “Trouble Weighs a Ton” plays like the rote roots rock that set the Black Keys apart from their dusty Fat Possum contemporaries. And “My Last Mistake” is so dead-on for Creedence Clearwater Revival, you’d swear it was a cover.
But it’s when Auerbach hews closely to the clenched-fist blues-rock of his full-time gig that Keep It Hid shows flashes of panache and power that the album lacks elsewhere. “I Want Some More” slams like a jackhammer hitting asphalt, with Auerbach’s guitar and the drums lining up for some serious power notes. The taunting “Street Walkin’” and the marauding “The Prowl” find Auerbach becoming the horny bluesman he plays so well. He spends both tracks trying to get laid over the album’s best riffs.
It’s admirable that Auerbach would want to start looking outside of the limitations he and fellow Key Patrick Carney put on themselves at the jump by bringing in a full band to augment his sound. But there’s not much on Keep It Hid to enjoy that couldn’t have come from the Black Keys. Even the best non-blues song (the southwestern-soaked “When I Left the Room”) is desperately Black Keys-like, to the point where you begin to feel for Auerbach’s inability to stretch himself. Maybe Keep It Hid allowed him to exercise some less than perfect songs he’s had in the chamber that he didn’t feel like using on past releases. But most of Keep It Hid finds Auerbach fitfully trying to be different, but ending up with mediocre routine results.