THE BLACK KEYS: THICKFREAKNESS (2003)
1) Thickfreakness; 2) Hard Row; 3) Set You Free; 4) Midnight In Her Eyes; 5) Have Love Will Travel; 6) Hurt Like Mine; 7) Everywhere I Go; 8) No Trust; 9) If You See Me; 10) Hold Me In Your Arms; 11) I Cry Alone.
The band's second album caused a slight increase in their influence, but, in retrospect, it may be just a tad less impressive than the debut — if only for the fact that the John Lee Hooker / Howlin' Wolf vibe is less evident here, much of it sacrificed in favor of a late Sixties / early Seventies hard rock spirit. It was one thing when Auerbach applied Leslie West's classic guitar tone to old blues material — it's another thing when he applies it to Leslie West-style material, because why should anyone already familiar with Mountain's classic records care to bother?
Well, for one thing, the Auerbach/Carney duet still sounds awesomely cool and modestly unique. The entire record was produced within 14 hours in Carney's basement, but, for all I know, it could have just as well be recorded live in fourty minutes in an underground station. Coupled with that guitar tone and those ragged vocals, the spontaneity works. Second, if you dig the sonic vibe at all, and I do, it really only matters if they have enough decent songs to go along with the sound. And Thickfreakness passes the test — barely.
Barely, because blues-rock songwriting is a risky business, and Auerbach either does not care to invent new riffs at all, or deems it sufficient to tweak and adjust pre-existing ones. The title track is a good example: I am pretty sure I have heard that fat opening melody many times already, but in slightly differing variants. On the other hand, it still kicks ass, and the nifty little touch of inserting a Beatlesque "hold me, love me..." bit in the middle of each chorus is enough to carry it over the basic memorability threshold.
My personal favorite is 'No Trust', which builds upon a boogie line stolen directly from 'Shakin' All Over', crossed with a Delta blues-style chorus. Less convincing is the album's best-known track 'Set You Free', made popular by being featured in the School of Rock movie: no attempts at presenting any shade of a memorable riff or catchy vocal melody. More convincing than 'Set You Free' is the band's take on Richard Berry's 'Have Love Will Travel', whose famous riff is a perfect match for Auerbach's guitar tone — unfortunately, this version still has no chance to overshadow the classic Sonics version (I miss that insane sax solo!). Even more convincing may be 'Hard Row', whose descending guitar lines are somewhat reminiscent of Clapton circa Cream.
Still, overall, I'd qualify this as an «enjoyable disappointment». The shift of direction per se is not a good sign, and the uniformity of the tracks is denser than on The Big Come Up: you'd have to be totally wooed by the debut in order to enjoy the follow-up — unless you know nothing of either Chicago blues or 1970s hard rock, in which case Thickfreakness will probably sound more accessible. Still, thank God for Danny Auerbach — if there are even five or six former fans of Limp Bizkit in this world that found redemption through the man, count my vote for canonization.
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