The Black Keys – The Big Come Up

Calxie #3. Rated R: Album with the most strangely erotic overtones. Nominee 1 of 4

Sex. I’ve never had it. I think I speak for many male virgins when I say that the idea of it both enthrals and terrifies me. What women don’t seem to realise is that, very often, we are just as abjectly terrified of this level of contact and vulnerability as you are. Concerns dash through your head in the form of coy euphemisms which span from “what if I arrive early?” to “what if it’s somehow possible for me to be so bad at this that she starts batting for the other team?”. Gay men probably have just as much of a problem; I mean, sure, you know where everything is because you’ve got all the parts yourself and everything is conveniently on display, but where exactly are you supposed to put the damn thing? Thankfully, help is at hand. There are certain records that can iron out the creases a little. They may not turn you from Ron Weasley to Ron Jeremy, but they will at least give this significant and confusing ritual a bloody good soundtrack.
It’s very hard to believe that ‘The Big Come Up’ was written and recorded before the The Black Keys had even performed live together. Hard to believe, why? How cool does this thing sound?? It’s oozes confidence like thick crude oil, but despite this, Dan Auerbach still has this tender vulnerability buried in his otherwise gritty and roughly-sewn soulful voice. The is Blues rock with a capital “B” and a lower-case “r”. Either the budget was strictly shoe-string or it was deliberately made to sound that way, because whatever they’ve done (or couldn’t afford to do) makes it sound so much more refreshing than had these songs been recorded with a toybox of mixing desks and effects at their disposal. It literally sounds like these guys turned up, plugged in and banged it out. It has a swagger to it, but it still feels like they care about what they’re doing. Being Blues rock, it’s largely riff based, but the riffs are very memorable indeed. Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney know that they’re both normal white guys, so they can’t pretend to have been through the trials and tribulations of their blues-roots heroes, so the lyrics are fairly standard, but they do their job well, in that they’re easily singable (when they can be distinguished through the fuzz) and infectiously rhythmic. Still, it’s by no means their best. It’s not hugely diverse, but it’s still very good.

The Black Keys’ debut may have been recorded nine years ago, but it has that tried-and-tested (but rarely achieved) combo of being both up-to-date and retro – not to mention near-timeless by pop music’s standards. It’s down-to-earth, fun, not too emotionally heavy (though, as they show on later records, they can do “heavy” pretty well thank you very much) with just the right balance of masculine energy and feminine sensitivity. Plus there’s no fear, which makes it a fairly promising candidate for the above described situation. Or it might be too distracting… next nominee up soon; maybe that one will be more suitable.

Key track: Run Me Down
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