We ease past the spluttering procession of trucks and Sunday drivers, wheels sliding across the smooth tarmac, the road stretching lazily in front of us as it undulates its way to the distant horizon. The world feels endless but narrowly defined, the vast tracts of tall pines on either side holding us in place, keeping us on track. The only way to move is forward. We are trapped but free, lost in the first heady days of the summer, somewhere between anywhere and nowhere and Dan Auerbach is our soundtrack.
On his second album, Waiting On A Song, Auerbach has left behind the gritty, broiling blues of the Black Keys, widening out his songbook to incorporate breezy folk pop, pristine orchestral funk and lazy, countrified acoustic unrest. Now with his own studio, and a bunch of production credits behind him, he seems like a man at ease with himself. The album’s title track, a joyful homage to the song-writing process, is followed by Malibu Man, a rising chorus of strings giving way to a glorious shimmy of horns. It’s a soundtrack to a way of life: “I moved from New York, with my boogie board/And bought a big house on the ocean/Stopped eating meat, I took the shoes off my feet/Just because I took the notion.” The song’s central character, his sparkling eyes and lazy smile breaking through an unshaven face, holds a cocktail in hand as he saunters down the beach.
And so we saunter with him through a pair of fuzzy guitar pop gems. Livin’ In Sin and Shine on Me – the latter in particular bringing the kind of chorus hooks and clap-along joy that merits a full ensemble of jiving housewives, swinging shopkeepers and pirouetting policeman – only to be hit by the earnest lonesomeness of King Of A One Horse Town. Now the streets have emptied and our bedraggled king kicks pebbles through an empty parking lot. Summer gives way to autumn and then winter. Snowfall tumbles around him as he shivers past the abandoned lots of half-built dreams, paralysed by his own fear: “Guess I’ll stay on desolation row/Go get stoned and hang around/The beat of my drum is the only sound/I would jump into the ocean but I’m scared I’d drown.”
This song is the essence of this album. On the surface it’s bright and free – a series of wondrously effortless pop moments found with immaculate poise – but lyrically there are lines which unpick this ease. As you peel back the layers you see the intricacy and depth that lies beneath. Our Malibu Man is lonely and without roots. Shine on Me is more grasping, hopeful optimism than assured happiness. Even Stand By My Girl, an ode to loving monogamy is underwritten with anxiety: “I’m gonna stand by my girl, don’t think I won’t/I’m gonna stand by my girl, because she’ll kill me if I don’t.”
In reality, of course, it’s not all sadness and the durability of this record comes from its ability to balance light and dark. Yes, we swing to its casual beat and sense of escapism but we also find empathy in its disquiet and alienation. On Never In My Wildest Dreams, Auerbach writes of love and freedom, embracing us in a wave of delightful acoustic guitar and warm, fecund horns. But it’s a love that he hopes for, not one that he has yet reached: “Never in my wildest dreams/Would I be loving you/Never in my wildest dreams/Would my dreams come true.”
Waiting On A Song is one of the quiet success stories of this past year. A supposedly summer record that manages to be for all seasons. For some it may be a little too derivative, and certainly it’s nothing we haven’t heard before, but it’s musically adept, finely crafted and constructed with a sly subtlety which can be easily overlooked. Give yourself a treat and grab this album from Easy Eye Records.