The Black Keys
Rubber Factory, 180G Black Vinyl LP
Now that The Black Keys have solidified themselves as ranking contenders in the garage-blues tag-team division (a recognized and surprisingly competitive weight class), they've got a whole field of challengers to fend off. I'm thinking primarily of me, the critic, looking to measure their latest effort against its vaunted predecessors, counting the faults, tallying the improvements, making a decision. But the band has garnered a sizable fanbase indifferent to prior allegiances-- mud-caked Bonnaroo jam fans, NPR-driven blues boosters, and fist-pumping hard rock loyalists have all been trampled under The Black Keys' roots-chewing corduroy stomp. So really, it makes little difference what I have to say; most of you have already decided these guys are the real deal. Those who haven't, however, can rest assured that, in judging The Black Keys' budding discography, Rubber Factory beats their previous two by TKO.
That's because it picks up right where Thickfreakness left off-- outside the bar in the gravel parking lot, swinging aggressively with Dan Auerbach's ferocious six-string and Patrick Carney's cymbal-and-snare seizures-- and brings the noise one step further. There's more of an album feel to Rubber Factory, a conscious song-by-song progression rather than the visceral, overwhelming vibe that forged their debut, The Big Come Up, into a seething wrecking ball. When Auerbach settles down with a lap steel on "The Lengths", it's no mere diversion-- there's true conviction behind his country blues balladry. In its rosy tenderness, "The Lengths" is the biggest departure from the band's studied template. Auerbach sings, "Please yourself/ You don't have to be afraid," and it seems obvious he's convincing himself that he and Carney have carved out a niche deep enough they can break out of it with confidence to deliver something totally unexpected and achingly sweet. -Pitchfork