Since their breakthrough 14 years ago with Brothers, the Black Keys have held steady with a string of albums that have simultaneously tried to expand their limited musical palette (initially only singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney played on their records) while not straying too far from the primal blues-based rock 'n' roll that made them famous.

All this has made the five albums released since Brothers' tightly packed follow-up El Camino a bit similar on the surface, including their 12th LP, Ohio Players. Only on repeated listens do intricacies reveal themselves, and, more often than not, they rarely require more than a year or title to distinguish them. Yet for a band whose reputation is so wedded to a particular sound, the Black Keys have been open to widening their horizons over the years (see: their four-album commercial and creative peak with producer Danger Mouse).

Ohio Players - a nod to the Dayton-based '70s funk group and the Black Keys' birth state - falls someplace between the unfiltered garage stomp of their early records and more recent detours reflecting a maturing songwriting focus. With the opening track, "This Is Nowhere," Auerbach pushes against expectations. Maybe the most pop-oriented song they've ever recorded, it features hand claps, zooming synths, chiming backing vocals and a radio-friendly hook miles away from the Akron basements where they got their start.

READ MORE: The Black Keys 'Dropout Boogie' Album Review

"Don't Let Me Go" maintains Ohio Players' deep dive into '60s and '70s soul, as does a strings-abetted cover of William Bell's "I Forgot to Be Your Lover." But a pair of songs with Noel Gallagher - "On the Game" and "Only Love Matters" - sidetrack the album's theme and bear the Oasis songwriter's distinctive stamp, and "Beautiful People (Stay High)" sounds more like it was dusted from the shelf of co-writer Beck than a new collaboration with Auerbach and Carney.

Beck also appears on "Paper Crown" along with rapper Juicy J, while "Live Till I Die" comes way too close to Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl." Mostly though Ohio Players can't help but sound like a Black Keys album: "Please Me (Till I'm Satisfied)" and "Read Em and Weep" could have been randomly pulled from their two-decade catalog. Ohio Players has a great start but loses some of its enthusiasm along the way.

Black Keys Albums Ranked

From lo-fi 8-track recordings to multiplatinum hits, a roundup of every studio LP by the blues-rock duo. 

Gallery Credit: UCR Staff

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