The Black Keys’ first two records established them as front runners in the Midwestern blues-rock scene spiritually led by the White Stripes. Their third record, Rubber Factory, announces them as true contenders. The record maintains the intensity and grittiness that made Thickfreakness and The Big Come Up so good but ups the ante with a new moodiness and incorporates a variety of approaches that never undermine the attack. The change is announced immediately. Instead of the slither or wail of electric guitar, the first sounds are the slow pounding of drums. Suspicion is confirmed that “When the Lights Go Out” is announcing a change, when the guitar and vocals join the dark and brooding tune of nocturnal activity. “10 AM Automatic” jumps in next to assuage any fear that the band has gone soft. It has all the combination of raucous blues groove and rock n' roll swagger that first made me love the band. Along with "Stack Shot Billy", it finds the Keys at the height of their powers and compels tow tapping and body shaking like a hypnotist robbed of any subtlety. The great strength of this record, however, is its ability to simultaneously play against type and meet expectations. Halfway through, the band slides from the languid, meandering of the slide guitar driven “The Lengths” into an all out, raging guitar cover version of the Captain Beefheart song “Grown So Ugly.”
The Akron duo maintains the blues tradition of interpretation but continues to add to the repertoire. They slip comfortably into a cover of the Kinks’ “Act Nice and Gentle” and transform it almost completely into their own song without running it as a straight blues number. The record demonstrates the band’s development as song writers and producers. The sound, the tone, and the mood of the record all announce a newly honed confidence. The songs are both lyrically and musically their strongest and most interesting set.
This is an album of rock n’ roll from two guys who know the history and understand how to make it sound fresh and interesting.