I won’t claim to know that much about blues or blues rock, but based on an appearance on Conan O’Brien during the early 2000s, I was introduced to Akron, Ohio’s The Black Keys. And based on some of the things that I read about their sophomore album Thickfreakness, the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney largely abandoned this exact style in favor of a more mainstream rock approach, with an emphasis on blues, rather than a basis in the genre.
Sandwiched between their debut The Big Come Up (2002) and The Rubber Factory (2004), Thickfreakness is unabashedly raw. It was recorded in a single day (!) on an 8-track recorder, which explains in part why the album has a vintage feel. Only one of the songs (“Midnight in Her Eyes”) incorporates the bass guitar, leaving the low end of the spectrum to Auerbach’s tuning, amp and guitar set-ups. But even the bassline for that song was recorded through a guitar amp, so some of that low end is lost in translation.
But this adherence to a classic sound makes Thickfreakness stand apart from later albums. Outside of Auerbach’s soulful voice, it’s a very different band on their latest records, El Camino and Brothers.
I’m not by any means an authority on the topic, but I think this record would also fit nicely in the garage rock category. It did, in fact, come out at the time of the revival of the genre, with bands like The White Stripes and The Strokes releasing classic records during this period.
Looking at Thickfreakness through that lens, it’s easy to place it in the same tag. I’m sure the group’s fans of the three albums released in as many years weren’t exactly pleased by the blatant departure away from how rugged they used to be, to their more polished and commercial friendly approach recently, but what can you do. Money called.
Into it, not so much into their later work. It lacks the soul of this album.
Also, I think the cover is a can of what I use in my hair, so there’s that. (For the record, it’s Murray’s.)
From Thickfreakness, this is “Set You Free” –
Standout tracks: The opening three tracks (“Thickfreakness,” “Hard Row” and “Set You Free”) are hard to beat. “Everywhere I Go” and the delightfully minimal “I Cry Alone” are solid too.
Weakest track: “Hurt Like Mine”
RIYL: Alt-country, blues rock, blues. The Garage Rock Revival.