Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, collectively known as The Black Keys, make a lot of noise with a guitar, some drums, and a microphone. They're hardly alone in doing that these days. A whole bunch of young, blues-influenced, frills-eschewing musicians have cropped up as if responding to the current age of demographic-pandering albums and Pro Tools perfectionism; some have become famous while others persist in obscurity. Rubber Factory is The Black Keys' third album, and it probably won't make the band famous beyond its circle of fans. But the disc makes a lot of noise, and it sounds great in the process.
Rubber Factory takes its name from the spot where Auerbach and Carney recorded it, an Akron, Ohio General Tire plant turned makeshift living-and-recording space. That may explain the echoing boom behind Carney's thumping on the album-opening "When The Lights Go Out," or Auerbach's polluted-air vocals on "The Desperate Man." Or it may explain nothing at all, but a manufacturing plant does seem like the right place to record an album this raw. Paying homage to classic blues without feeling like a novelty act, Rubber Factory works through a set that veers from the spirited, catchy, lyrically dark "10 A.M. Automatic" to the quietly despairing "The Lengths" before emptying into the taut chaotic finale "Till I Get My Way."
Most of the tracks convey heartbreak, and most respond by trying to pound it away. But beneath all the volume-pushing, the band exercises a lot of craft. For all the debt The Black Keys owes to past masters, it never traffics in clichés, and it would be tough to mistake for any other act. Auerbach's voice, which sounds like he's smoked more cigarettes than his age would allow, accounts for a lot of this, but the group's greatest strength comes from its sideways approach to combining rock's drive with the blues' hypnotic grip. It makes an old rubber factory sound like the kind of music-making machine that no laptop-littered high-tech studio could hope to match.