Review Summary: Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) return in full force for their 2004 LP, Rubber Factory. Comparisons to The White Stripes be damned – these boys take blues grit and make it their own.
The Black Keys’ earlier work is noted for being recorded and produced entirely in drummer Patrick Carney’s basement. However, once Carney’s landlord sold the building in which the fabled studio rested, the band was forced to move elsewhere. Thus it came to be that the band settled their studio plans into an abandoned tire-making factory, soon after which the aptly-named Rubber Factory
was born. Accordingly, the album retains much of the welcomed rawness that pervades the band’s first two releases. However, these salty garage-rockers have much more to offer than your average lo-fi rock-out.
Despite the sparse instrumentality of the album, one can hardly recognize the absence of the usual bass, rhythm guitar, and other typical embellishments throughout most of the songs. Evoking the dynamic talent of many-a-blues-legend past, Auerbach’s voice often strands the line between gentle croon and gruff roar, a trait best displayed by the transition of “The Lengths” into the explosive “Grown So Ugly”. Likewise, his trademark guitar work is put on full display, alternately providing tuneful riffage and complimenting his vocal melodies. To praise Auerbach’s lyrics as being especially profound would be a little naïve. Rather, they exist in much the same realm as his songs, with a sort of precocious energy and unadorned honesty that could easily be mistaken for laziness if it weren’t for the nature of the music. Carney’s drumming frames it all to great effect, being neither overly simplistic nor distracting.
The stylistic coarseness for which the band’s earlier work is known is flaunted to fantastic effect on the album’s dirtier tracks, including the catchy “10 A.M. Automatic” and “The Desperate Man”, the former of which resolves with a guitar solo that may even startle you on your first few listens. Similarly, opener “When the Lights Go Out” and “The Desperate Man” churn along with gritty determination, bringing to mind the album’s namesake. However, the highlight of Rubber Factory
stands out as being the least typical for the band. Coming in at track seven and 4:55 in length, “The Lengths” is the longest song The Black Keys had recorded by over a minute. Its layering of slide melodies and acoustic guitar(!) under heart-wrenching vocals make it one of the most unique tracks in the band’s discography – and one of the best.
Admittedly, the album isn’t without its shortcomings. The latter half of a record typically falls prey to a band’s indulgences and “filler” tracks, and Rubber Factory
is no exception. After the frenetic “Grown So Ugly”, a noticeable lull in quality becomes evident, with the relatively sedated “Act Nice and Gentle” being pleasant, but ultimately forgettable. Likewise, “Stack Shot Billy” and “Aeroplane Blues” unsuccessfully attempt to emulate the energy of earlier tracks on the album, sounding better suited to B-sides. However, closing track “Till I Get My Way” quickly reminds the listener of the duo’s songwriting prowess. With its melodic riffing and upbeat pace, it suggestively draws the listener into hitting the repeat button, as any good closer should.
In retrospect, it’s easy to hear why people are drawn to the band in the first place. Amidst a decade of increasingly inflated indie pretensions, there comes the desire to break away from the constructs of style and hipness that pop culture propagates. I’ve found that Rubber Factory
settles nicely into the framework of an album to be enjoyed in its purest form – sans the bells and whistles. In 2012, it’s one I often find myself breaking out again and again.