Six years ago, drum and bass was going to save the music industry, and we were all going to stay up all night and dance with strangers in Dr. Seuss costumes.
Didn't quite happen. Rock is back, unexpectedly the industry's latest last great hope. Rock is back, and it only takes a guitar and drums, a working knowledge of the Nuggets box and its pebbles, and a willingness to flog hard at the near edge of distortion. This is a good thing, properly applied.
The Black Keys are from Akron, Ohio, just two guys from the land of rubber, the kind of place trends only lap up against; thickfreakness is their second long player. Dan Auerbach, the singer, is young, but he has one of those voices from the blues side of the British Invasion. This is a very good thing.
Perhaps it sounds limiting, just the two of them. It is not, largely because Auerbach has a special instinct for great riffs. Garage is typically viewed as a crude, unlettered kind of guitar, and it often is. At this juncture, the language is rich enough that it begs to be used with greater eloquence. Just the man for it.
Greybeards will hear familiar guitar phrases throughout (a touch of "Stranglehold" here, a little "Season Of The Witch" there, say), and the drum part opening "Set You Free" might've introduced the Sonics' "Psycho". In less adroit hands, this becomes a too-clever copycat nod to the canon. Auerbach seems to have internalized these sounds, and they simply emerge from his guitar with the same facility blues once musicians quoted each other's best licks. Rather like a learned poet riffing on the phrase "rosy-fingered dawn" by way of recalling Homer.
And so when they do get down to the hip-check Sonics cover, "Have Love Will Travel" (which would be more of an obscurity if Springsteen hadn't covered it), they've earned the right. Rather more importantly, the song works not as an homage, but as a Black Keys song.
That last is the best part: The songs. Played properly -- that is, loudly -- the songs on thickfreakness adhere with the same tenacity of the best '60s pop radio. Kids today.