Ohio Players

The Black Keys

Nonesuch, 2024


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Right around Memorial Day 2024, the Black Keys quietly announced that they were cancelling the North American leg of their International Players tour. It was a shock to fans, of course, though it soon became known that the shows had been booked in arenas and tickets were a minimum of $100… and not many people were buying them.

Now, the Keys are a good band, but they haven’t played arenas in a very long time, and Ohio Players didn’t exactly burn up the charts or anything on its April release. The natural inclination would be to blame the album, though to me it seems more like bad planning on the part of an overzealous management firm that couldn’t read the room.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But, to be fair, Ohio Players is not really an album on which to build an arena tour, despite all the special guests that drop by. Beck joins the album as basically a third member, playing on and co-writing seven of the 14 songs, while Jessie J and Noel Gallagher drop by as well. The songs are firmly within the Keys’ established sound, but almost no feeling of the blues is here other than the melancholy that tends to color most of Dan Auerbach’s singing and “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.”

“This Is Nowhere” is the band’s worst album opener, a very repetitive track that goes nowhere; better is the efficient stomp of “You’ll Pay” and the psychedelic mood that colors “Only Love Matters.” But as the disc plays out, it has a feeling of trying just a little too hard to have fun, of convincing everyone that this is where you really want to be, even though that’s clearly not the case. “Please me ’til I’m satisfied,” Auerbach orders one unlucky partygoer about midway through the album, and you feel like maybe people should just go home and sober up.

The rap verses tacked on to “Candy And Her Friends” and “Paper Crown” are awkward and out of place, as is the pop reach of “Beautiful People (Stay High),” adding to the desperation-party vibe. “Read ’Em and Weep,” toward the end, comes as close as “You’ll Pay” to capturing that Keys sound that they do so well, which is part of what made their 2022 album Dropout Boogie a fun, efficient listen. Oh, and to those of a certain age who remember the Ohio Players, there’s no funk to be found in these songs. Shame.

So three good songs does not a successful arena album make, and I think fans realized that. Time will tell if they come back to play smaller stadiums with a more devoted fan base, and in concert some of these songs will pop. But it’s a telling sign that the band feels the need to bring in all these guests to try to enliven the proceedings and it still doesn’t work.

Rating: C-

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