The Black Keys - Rubber Factory
Amongst music nerds with a big-picture viewpoint and tendency for hyperbole, there is a common drinking game instigated by the utterance: "OK, Best Rock Band Ever... and a vortex of time opens up swallowing all attentions away from bored girlfriends and ongoing pool games so that all available energies may be applied to the given task. To put in true dork context, its like as if lights would dim on the Enterprise so that Warp engines could be fully torched and push our beloved crew to their Final Destination. There are a variety of contenders: The Ramones invariably come up (whereas the Influential Sex Pistols almost never do), as do The Velvet Underground and The Clash and Neil Young and Crazy Horse. If the hoary Beatles or Rolling Stones get mentioned, the collective scoffs hang in the air like vapor trails - now is not the time for voting with the major parties, now is the time to collect signatures for your particular Nader. I've heard plenty of minor leaguers brought up (some by me) like Oasis, The Pixies, The Sonics, The Fall etc etc - all bringing about a spate of goatee stoking and thoughtful effort put into support/refutation, but I think my finest hour came when I threw down The Black Keys.
From Akron, OH, via the wellspring of swampy blues that is Fat Possum records, spring this raw electric guitar and drum duo, stripping away trappings of style and fashion to just rocking the fucking house. Their earlier albums "The Moan", "The Big Come-Up" and the spectacularly greasy "Thichfreakness" get at the core of apple Jack White and Jon Spencer are satisfied to merely polish and place on the teacher's desk. The Black Keys exemplify what I truthfully want in a bar band: get my head bobbing, make me do a kick-drum shuffle with my foot as I ignore the drink in my hand, make me wanna holler "YEAH!" at the end.
This new album "Rubber Factory" sees them following their previous blueprint with a little growth as songwriters. The fiddle-scraping opening dirge of "When the Lights Go Out" captures the slow rotation of the earth of Delta Blues while infusing it with the mechanical sturm and drang of a lower-wattage Swans, while rockers like "10 AM Automatic" and "Stack Shot Billy" kick out the dark blues cobbler, proudly bearing their sources (Rolling Stones' "I'm Losing You" and the standard "Trouble in Mind" of which freaking Moby made a career) To mean the real shining moment is the tender slide and acoustic ballad "The Lengths" that glimmers in the twilight like the best songs by The Band. The Black Keys dovetail nicely with the new breed of Americana artists ( term that is on par with "electronica" in bloodlessness and lame-ity, but to evoke "alt.country" seems an even more egregious offence) like Drive-By Truckers and Slobberbone, that are not secretly hoping to get to be poet-in-residence offers at small progressive English departments so that they may pursue their own personal Townes Van Zandt ghosts in comfort, (though Patterson Hood of DBT would probably be game for it, now that I think of it) but wanna take their brilliance on the road and trail that other Van Zandt spectre. And I don't mean Little Stevie.
I never could completely convince my partners in crime that The Black Keys are worthy of the Golden Pitcher at the aforementioned council meetings, or that they even qualify for competition, but love is not primarily an objective enterprise, and I love this lil band and will take it any day over whatever dark horse you are backing with equal devotion. And that's what makes being a big music nerd worth while.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com