Dan Auerbach: Waiting On A Song

 

Dan Auerbach
Waiting On A Song
(Nonesuch)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It’s safe to say that nothing in Dan Auerbach’s extensive career so far will prepare you for Waiting On A Song. Not his work fronting the bluesy, indie rocking Black Keys since 2002 or his swampy side project the Arcs, not his production for a diverse set of artists like Lana Del Ray or the Pretenders, and certainly not his previous solo album from nine years ago that mined a raw, ragged Keys groove.

Nope, the ever restless and prolific singer/songwriter/guitarist’s shift into mellow ’70s California pop seems to arrive from some other dimension, likely the Twilight Zone. While Auerbach has toyed with commercially-oriented music in the past, these ten short selections that barely break 30 minutes go full bore into a fizzy, almost bubblegum arena. Some songs wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Shaun Cassidy or Andy Gibb album your parents might have stashed away in the attic.

It starts out promisingly with the relatively spare countrypolitan bounce of the title track (co-written by no lesser icon than John Prine), that has an underlying darkness of looking/waiting for your creative muse to kick in as an artist with writer’s block. So far, so breezy.

Then comes the thumping drums, schlocky strings, backing vocals, horns and errr Glockenspiel of the following “Malibu Man” that pushes Auerbach’s lyrics into cringe-worthy simplicity (“Malibu Man, isn’t life grand?”) with overproduced music that seems like a snarky parody of what you might have heard on AM radio four decades ago. Ditto for the basic beat of “Stand By My Girl” with its sing-along chorus of “I’m going to stand by my girl/ ’cause she’ll kill me if I don’t”) and the super slick “King Of A One Horse Town,” enlivened by guest guitarist Duane Eddy.

Even though this is unlikely to appeal to hard core Black Keys or Arcs fans, the songwriting effort (the sweet, sensitive “Never In My Wildest Dreams” could have come from Burt Bacharach’s pen) and detailed creativity of the arrangements is impressive, as is Auerbach’s sheer gumption to jumping feet first into an unlikely style to yield a left field radio hit. Or might have 40 years ago … today that’s questionable.

The timing of this release, which appears just as summer 2017 kicks into gear, can’t be coincidental. This is sun-roof open, beach blanket bingo music that slides down easily and doesn’t demand much from the listener. But even if these tunes are frothy and calorie free doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to enjoy here once you warm up to Auerbach’s sincere, unsubtle approach.

And if his intent is to put smiles on faces with a batch of catchy, immaculately produced, bubbly retro pop ditties, well … mission accomplished.