Many Manly Returns


From the Cart Before the Horse file: Here comes the Black Keys’ Thickfreakness, arriving in multiple copies in SoCal BestBuys three weeks ago, well before stocking in the mom-and-poppers that sold their The Big Come Up last year. My hunch is it’s a sign of impending trouble, a giveback-in-waiting built upon the delusion that print recommendation influences shoppers who charge into home appliance stores on the weekend.

And I don’t care to hear how the Black Keys toured with Sleater-Shminney. It didn’t get ’em in front of the BestBuy audience, consumers of hip-hop, the latest from Linkin Park, and rock classique. The Pasadena BestBuy, for instance, is a model: a store that runs phony radio-station loops through the PA, a few minutes of someone more beloved than toilet paper, like Ozzy, aired ad headacheum because a conglomerate bought the slot.

Fat Possum Records, of course, hasn’t the cash money reserves for this manner of grease, instead buying space in the freeps. And we know those pubs are always found in the parking lots of department megastores, right? It’s fubar, and if it’s their idea of a good plan, one would hope never to see a bad one. (If it’s partly Epitaph’s, I get it. Reduced mental faculties—e.g., giving away old G.G. Allin records would be easier than peddling Turbonegro.)

Back from digression, the micro-phenom of moaning, guitar crash, and thump for the urban hipster isn’t going to last the year for anyone not on its apex. Just show me someone from the demographic who will regularly seek out a man’s grease-chain blooz. Such a creature does not exist. I know: been there, done it, bought it. Ask George Thurrygood, if you don’t believe me.

But the Black Keys aren’t stumbling, bless ’em. I’m thrilled someone’s come up with a hairier version of Chris Youlden-era Savoy Brown. Where the Browns were citified, the Keys are drinking Jax at a roadside shack as mosquitoes go into the bug zapper. On “Hurt Like Mine” and “If You See Me,” the ax barks and blats are reminiscent of Kim Simmonds’s, its “medium fidelity” recording something Mike Vernon would appreciate.

Like the Black Keys, Savoy Brown were recorded buck naked. There are differences, of course—Dan Auerbach’s voice is put down rough and distorted; his guitar crunch magnified with springy reverb adding another layer of sonic boom to the rhythm when the Ohio duo really get to flailing. Simmonds and company were warmer, but not necessarily better.

The Black Key mix of sawtooth fuzz with amplifier distortion is adroitly vintage, too—the way old-timey guitarists brought on the Blue Cheer vibe without ruining the parade. The myth here is that human beings actually listen to Blue Cheer records. They don’t; they merely purchase them, Blue Cheer being a legend with their puny working catalog concealed by clouds of amusing exaggeration.

So, the Keys totter along the Blue Cheer line of demarcation for “Have Love Will Travel,” a song I have always thought to be crap. The rendition doesn’t change the mind, but also doesn’t sink the record. Thickfreakness isn’t a step further than The Big Come Up, but the stereo screams in pain less when the new one plays. Those threadbare-tone tricks were sparingly great, but the novelty wore thin fast.

Finally, the good times of the fan are tested by the disgusting cover: translucent yellow slime of the variety your mother put in your nostrils when you had the flu, or smeared on a glass thermometer destined for the exhaust pipe. “Ugh!” shuddered Kaputnik, as he walked past it on the way to the aisle with ZZ Top.