If the White Stripes brought two-piece garage blues out of the carport, the Black Keys makes it its duty to keep one foot firmly planted on the oil-stained floor. Its latest release, Rubber Factory, is a striking statement that bears deeply on the Keys’ devotion to blues music and to keeping it loud, dirty and impassioned.
While the White Stripes continues to deviate from its blues inspired beginnings — with Jack White producing country albums and appearing in Jim Jarmusch films — the Black Keys keeps rolling out hard, yearning rockers, delving deep into the primordial substance of blues music. Tracks such as “The Girl is Mine,” “Desperate Man” and “10 a.m. Automatic” cement a certain distinctiveness to the Keys’ muddy sound.
That’s not to say that Dan Auerbach (guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) fail to seek new territory. Rubber Factory isn’t a carbon copy of the band’s previous albums. The Keys slows the tempo on tracks like the chilling opener “When the Lights Go Out,” on a quivering, bottle-neck jaunt titled “The Length” and on its wonderfully rolling cover of the Kinks’ “Act Nice and Gentle,” a B-side from the original garage poets’ 1967 Something Else album.
Auerbach’s songwriting also evolves into something far more effortless. Rubber Factory flows with an easy authenticity, making the tracks less songs, but more gut-wrenching expressions straight from the gut. Auerbach conjures Hendrix on his six-string, sending his songs spiraling. Coupled with his deep, echoed vocals, the Keys leaves no doubt that boys from the Midwest can feel and sound just as anguished as the original blues makers.
Recorded in a rundown tire factory in their native city of Akron, Carney’s production remains grungy and muffled. The lo-fi techniques employed on the Keys’ first two albums have been refined slightly, giving a little bit more depth to Auerbach’s voice and some more shine to his guitar. Carney’s drum-kit doesn’t emerge nearly enough — getting lost in Auerbach’s feedback on a continual basis.
With all its empowered blues, the Keys leaves little room for more complex tunes. This probably better suits its style, but with a nod to the Kinks and a messy cover of the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” on 2002’s The Big Come Up, the Keys has always hinted to a penchant for more interesting songs. Sure, its heavy blues continues to amaze, but if the Keys continues to dangle its interest for more interesting fair, one can’t help but feel a little disappointed that it doesn’t deliver a bit more.
That said, Rubber Factory is still a great listen. And in truth, the greatest albums always leave you wanting more.
The Black Keys plays the High Noon Saloon in Madison Wednesday, Aug. 22. The Cuts will open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12.