The Black Keys
he Black Keys are a blues-rock duo who make their racket with the aid of just guitar, drums and howling vocals. Sound familiar? Well, while their name may suggest they’re from the opposite end of the spectrum to The White Stripes, the truth is obviously quite different. The Keys are most definitely cut from the same cloth, and even come with Jack White’s seal of approval (although this hasn’t always proved to be a good thing in the past).
At the very least the Keys have attitude and passion to spare: all eleven tracks are beaten out with the utmost ferocity. But, while there’s no doubt that the band themselves are engrossed in creating this music, their defiantly retro stew remains curiously unappetising for the listener. There simply isn’t enough pop here - Thickfreakness is just re-heated blues riffs served up with only the tiniest variation between songs.
That’s not to say that making backward-looking rock is automatically a barrier to greatness. Elastica and Oasis, for instance, delivered classic albums that barely had an original note or idea to share between them. The key to those records, though, is a playfulness that made the stealing more fun than infuriating. While Elastica and Definitely Maybe sounded like children being let loose in a sweet shop, picking and choosing whatever they fancied from the last few decades of guitar-pop, Thickfreakness sounds like grumpy old men playing the same tunes over and over in a stubborn refusal to embrace anything new. What’s worse is that the world isn’t exactly short of this particular brand of blues revivalism at the moment, and The Black Keys lack the lightness of touch and pop nuance to stand out from the crowd.
Plus points? Lead singer Dan Auerbach is undoubtedly in possession of a fine voice: a melancholy howl that would put Mr. White to shame. A couple of tracks add up to more than the meagre sum of their parts: "Hard Row" and "Midnight in her Eyes" have riffs that sound refreshingly confident, rather than the over-familiar slop elsewhere. Anyone in search of raw, garage-band authenticity will not be disappointed: the production is determinedly unfussy. No edges have been smoothed down.
But "raw" and "authentic" are only good things when you possess the rawness of songwriting talent to pull it off. A change of pace may have helped things: the album settles into a swagger on the opening title track and never lets up, which becomes tiresome over the long haul.
Thickfreakness is an unrelentingly dour record - perhaps this music was best left in the past.
Reviewed by: Kilian Murphy
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01