From the first day he started recording “Turn Blue” in the studio, Patrick Carney said he knew Pitchfork.com was going to give it a bad review.
And despite the album cover’s psychedelic attempt to perhaps hypnotize the Chicago-based music publication for its stamp of approval, he was right.
Pitchfork’s Larry Fitzmaurice rated The Black Keys’ eighth studio album — released in May — a 5.8 out of 10, putting a noticeable dip in the line of critical approvals from the rock duo’s last two efforts, 2011’s “El Camino” (7.4) and 2010’s “Brothers” (7.7).
In a phone interview with The Lantern on Friday, Carney — The Black Keys’ drummer — chalked it up to “journalism nowadays.”
“There are very few bands that (Pitchfork) is consistently into, they have a track record for that,” Carney said. “Most of the content is dictated by sponsors, and it’s about getting a certain demographic, hits on a website and things like that. If you want to sell a lot of ads to 18-year-olds, you might not want to be hyping up a bunch of 34-year-olds making rock ‘n’ roll.”
The duo’s six Grammys certainly don’t make them immune to mediocre reviews, but Carney admitted that a good record — in this case, their platinum album “El Camino” which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 — is hard to follow.
“Some of my favorite records are the ones I hated the first few times I listened to them, and a good record is something that you have to put the time in to,” he said.
Carney and Dan Auerbach, the band’s singer and guitarist, can attest — after all, they spent almost eight years in underground status before The Black Keys finally saw commercial success.
The Akron, Ohio, natives — who are set to kick off the North American leg of their Turn Blue World Tour Friday at the Schottenstein Center — could attribute such patience and persistence to their Ohio roots, Carney said.
“I think we learned that if you want something, it takes a lot of hard work, and that was a result of being in Akron. There was not like a major employer there … and nowadays, you kind of have to have a vision, be a little creative and imagine what it is you ultimately want to do, and you have to figure out the game plan to get there,” he said.
With not “a whole lot to do” in Akron, Auerbach and Carney began a band out of boredom. With one influenced by the blues and the other invested in indie rock, the two bonded over a mutual love for the artists and records produced by Fat Possum Records — a label to which the duo would eventually sign.
Once they officially became The Black Keys in 2001, the two took their fuzzy, bluesy rock aesthetic on the road.
“When we first played Columbus, we first played this little place called Little Brothers — which is closed now — and then we played a couple little small bars,” Carney said. “It took about four years for us to play at a place like the Newport.”
Five albums, a leap into commercial America and more than 300 advertisements and montages featuring their biggest singles (notably “Tighten Up”) later, if you hadn’t heard of The Black Keys by 2010, you soon would.
Allowing companies to use their music as an advertising platform bothered the duo at first and made them “skeptical whether it would f— up (their) cred,” Carney admitted.
However, once Auerbach and Carney saw a bump in concert attendance — with an added bonus of people mouthing the words to songs — Carney said they had a change of heart.
“I think it’s good for us,” Carney said. “It’s kind of opened us up to probably potentially playing on the radio years later by having songs in movies and stuff.”
Fast-forward to today: A trophy case full of accolades does not impress critics, and the dull response to “Turn Blue” — which critics alike describe as astray to The Black Keys’ sound — is a product of Auerbach and Carney’s refusal of the “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” model, Carney said.
Instead, The Black Keys prefer to tinker.
“As an artist, as a musician, I think it’s really important to not make the obvious move, make music that you want to make, and it’s really important not to consider or worry about how it’s received or perceived,” Carney said.
The Black Keys are set to start a more than 40-city tour of the U.S. on Friday at 8 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center with help from rock band Cage the Elephant.
Though the stage is bigger and the arena grander, Carney said he and Auerbach will perform as if they were still playing Little Brothers.