This is the third in a series of eight posts breaking down each of the Black Keys albums leading up to the release of Turn Blue on May 13.
This album has a very special meaning to me. I’ve said it before, but the Black Keys were my gateway drug into the world of the blues and Rubber Factory was my first hit. I came across this album on some random free indie music website when I was in high school. I had one song by the Black Keys, “10 A.M. Automatic”, and I liked it so I downloaded the rest of the album for free. I had no idea what I was in store for, Rubber Factory opened my eyes to what music could be.
The Black Keys third album is the first album they recorded outside of Patrick Carney’s basement, but they didn’t exactly record it in a cushy studio either. Instead, they recorded it in an old tire factory in their hometown of Akron, Ohio. You can actually hear the echoes of Carney’s drums on songs like “When the Lights Go Out”* and “The Lengths”. Rubber Factory also marked the first time The Black Keys charted in the Billboard Top 200 (at 143).
Stylistically, this album differs from their first two efforts in it’s departure from their blues rock approach of their early albums. There is a distinct punk influence in Rubber Factory. There are still some blues songs, including their unique take on the blues standard “Stack-A-Lee” (The Black Key’s version is called “Stack Shot Billy”). But this album is definitely a punk album. Songs like “10 A.M. Automatic”, “All Hands Against His Own”, and “Till I Get My Way” feature very little blues. And even though I love the blues, I absolutely love these songs, too. My favorite is “10 A.M. Automatic”, even though it’s a simple song, with fairly simple chords and words that aren’t too special, it’s just a classic song. It’s a song that you could hear for the first time in your life, and think that you’ve been hearing it your whole life.
The bluesier tunes on Rubber Factory include “When the Lights Go Out”, “The Lengths”, “Stack Shot Billy”, and “Keep Me”. These songs still fit firmly with the tone of this record though. They would be out of place on the raucous The Big Come Up or with the hill country blues of Thickfreakness There are also some songs that are very unique to Rubber Factory when one looks at The Black Keys career as a whole. The cover “Grown So Ugly” is Dan Auerbach at his most unhinged. He snarls and screams about time spent in Angola penitentiary in Louisiana. Did Auerbach actually spend time there? Of course not. But you wouldn’t know it by the way he sings this song.
And the appropriately named “The Lengths” is one of the more tender songs Auerbach penned before the writing of Brothers. It’s a stark contrast to “Grown So Ugly”. It’s also fascinating because it is in this intimate song that the effects of recording in an old rubber factory become most obvious.
This is my favorite Black Keys album. It may not be the best but it is my personal favorite. To me, it’s the last of the unrefined, youthful Black Keys. They recorded it in an abandoned rubber factory on recycled tape! What’s more punk than that? This is also the Black Keys first completely accessible album. Pretty much anyone who likes rock music of any kind can appreciate this one. Maybe their first two were too bluesy for a non-blues fan, but this is the perfect balance.
Their next effort isn’t a full-length album, but I absolutely love it and it’s a very unique piece of art. Come back next week to read my review of Chulahoma.
*This was my walk-up song in high school if you wanted to know how cool I thought I was.
“10 A.M. Automatic” is The Black Keys at their most punk. It’s a simple song, but it remains one of my all-time favorites.