Producing an album in your basement, and then becoming famous from it. A dream that many starving artists share, but few can ever realize. The Black Keys are in the minority because they have produced all three of their albums in a lo-fi basement studio and managed to make a living off of them. With no hope for a spot on MTV or any TV coverage at all, for that matter, it’s obvious that The Black Keys play only for the joy of the music itself.
The Black Keys – The Big Come Up
Describing vocals with the term howling can lead to an unpleasant image, but here it works just fine. Dan Auerbach howls out his lines so sweetly and convincingly that you don’t care that the lyrics are sub-par, or that sometimes it just sounds like he’s grunting and not even singing words. There is a bizarre beauty to the way he sings, and you can tell he means every word. I’ve heard only a few singers that sound more into the music than this. He devotes his heart and soul to each line, squeezing out each word as though it’s the last he’ll ever sing.
The Black Keys are the only blues rock duo I’ve run across, unless you count the White Stripes. But The Black Keys are exponentially better than the minimalist White Stripes. The Black Keys fill up as much space as they can, with Dan’s ultra-distorted guitar playing the blues just as good as greats like Robert Johnson or Bo Diddley. The heavy bass in his tone makes the guitar sound thick and creamy, a perfect accent to the drum beats of Patrick Carney. Pat plays with amazing dynamics, bashing the drums until they break one second, then playing quiet as a mouse the next. This is blues rock at its finest, its most raw form. It’s just a heavy drum and guitar attack that doesn’t let up once throughout the entire album.
This album suffers little from being recorded and mixed in a basement. From a Beatles cover song to a quirky high note-based rocker, all of the songs sound professionally created, if a little low tech. Even though having just guitar and drums could make for a wimpy quality, the sound is thick and heavy, and the bass player is not missed at all. A bass player would actually over complicate some of the songs, eliminating their bluesy charm.
If you have ever heard of The Beatles, you might know their song She Said, She Said. The Black Keys take this song and make it their own blues-rock masterpiece, doing exactly what should be done with a cover song: Make it their own, and not just copy the original. Other standout tracks include “Busted,” which opens the album in a suitably gruff manner, the perfect showcase for every aspect of the band, “Countdown,” in which the lyrics mainly consist of counting but the guitar lines are too cool to ignore, and “Yearnin,’” which gives of a distinctly Rolling Stones vibe. Those are just a few tracks that standout, but the rest of the album is blues rock at its finest, raw and uncontrolled, as though the band could fall apart at any moment. The only throwaway track would be “240 Years Before Your Time,” which is about 20 minutes of silence, with just seconds of guitar playing.
The Black Keys are not out to turn the music world on its side. They aren’t out to reap in loads of fame or glory. They aren’t even out for money. They’re out to play music for people and for themselves, and to enjoy it on the way. If they ever become famous, which they should, the fame won’t go to their heads. They’ll still be The Black Keys, a band with a guy who’s between song banter at live shows consists solely of “Thank you,” and “Thanks again,” and a goofy looking drummer whose soul is thrust into every hit of the skins.
Excellently done blues rock, with the twist of no bass player. No bad songs, nothing to dislike. An easy 4/5
in my book.