There is a fine line between homage and all out copying of style. There are only so many notes you can play and of course pop music has filtered things down even more, but on Moonlight – Hanni El Khatib’s third release – that dangerous line is blurred to the point of detriment.
El Khatib’s first two simplistic blues/rock albums shook in a very clear Black Keys, Strokes early White Stripes vein rather than those bands’ inspirations: garage rockers from the 60’s. Both were catchy with a few stand-out offerings while reaming squarely in genre. Head In The Dirt specifically was produced by The Key’s Dan Auerbach yet it still retained Khatib’s poppy tendencies and flare for the cinematic (just check out all the commercials the tunes are placed in).
Moonlight was self produced but it is even more the fan boy tribute to Auerbach and specifically recent albums by The Black Keys. El Khatib expands the running time of songs and places the focus on the minimalist groove as opposed to pop punk energy. When hearing the opening riff to the title track for the first time it is impossible not to think of it is a recent Black Keys outtake or side project.
All that said these songs aren’t wince inducing, just derivative and never really capture their own voice. Darkness, late night flights/fights, backstage bumps are coalesced in a sleepy manor, while bass and spacey drums are everywhere. “Melt Me” has a metallic ring and some pleading vocal work that recalls the 80’s with generic wordplay but is propped up by a scorching solo that kicks. “Chasin’” includes a horn break and other instrumentation that mixes things up excitingly. “Mexico” is a stumbling block because the groove based style is asked to ramp into arena rock rafters and just can’t get it up. The majority of offerings such as “The Teeth”, “Servant” and “All Black” can be traced back quickly to recent retro rock – not disrupting as much as floating along.
The closing “Two Brothers” may show where Hanni El Khatib is going next with his repeating riff slowly working up into a full scale disco dance party via lots of strings and basic high hat. Engaging and not falling into the “heard it all before category” like the majority of Moonlight, this is an avenue El Khatib should stroll down further next time out.