The Black Keys – Thickfreakness (2003)

I was told about this band a few years ago by a good friend but I didn’t make note of it at the time, so it took a while until I remembered them. The Black Keys are a duo from Ohio, yet another shining example why duos can work spectacularly in rock music (The White Stripes, The Kills, Ruins, The Dresden Dolls and so on an so forth), especially as the chemistry between two musicians has to shine through with added strength to compensate for the intrinsic limitations of such a formula. The Black Keys also have the fact that they draw their vitality from the blues working for them. This being such a raw, simple, heartfelt genre, it seems to work its magic best with little, concentrated bands like this. And The Black Keys get it right to the letter.

I think what I appreciate most about The Black Keys, at least on their earlier records, is that they don’t really treat their music like an abstraction, they don’t sway away from the basic, organic blues feel. This is down’n’dirty, dusty, sunburned and stubborn blues, no questions asked. Some bands draw inspiration from this old music, heck, entire genres have been built starting from a blues foundation, but it seems to me The Black Keys are special because they manage to play the original and make it as fresh as it ever could be. The structures are simple, the lyrics are refreshingly devoid of senseless metaphor, and the almighty groove is animating this music in a way which is hard to put into words.

You see, I can’t help but appreciate something as effective as this. As I’ve said before in the post about Bjorn Berge, I don’t think the blues is an acquired taste. You either get it or you don’t. And The Black Keys give it to you straight, no nonsense, no little tricks to rake in extra audience. And within this ethos, they keep the music so punchy, so poignant and brutally honest it’s staggering. The guitar growls like a caged animal, the riffs are powerful, up there with the best of them I’d say, and the drums work very well for creating that slightly claustrophobic feel most duos have, while managing not to sound suffocating at all. And the vocals, let me not forget those, since they are probably the cornerstone of this outfit. Jack White can carry a tune on guitar like this. Brian Viglione from The Dresden Dolls can pound the skins like a demigod. But from all of these duos, Dan Auerbach has by far the most convincing and visceral vocal skills. He sounds like he’s yelling his lyrics straight from the forties, sending a wave of blues from the place where it all began to whack you over the head and get it bobbing up and down and to get your feet shuffling. Sure, in the meanwhile, the band has moved away slightly from this raw esthetic, albeit not in a bad way, but to me, these first albums, with their garage, backwater bar feeling to them, feed a hunger I’ve not felt satisfied in a long while. There’s bite in this music, there’s an undeniable air of cool emanating from it, and I’m glad The Black Keys were there to tune in and project it forth.

Not much left to say. I hope you’ll enjoy this music as much as I am. I can’t wait to get the chance to take a road trip somewhere quiet and wide, and let this album fill the space!

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