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Feeling heartsick from love’s tumult, sweating bullets in the middle of the night, drinking lightning from a corn liquor bottle, sitting in a room whose walls are so blue they look black, digging into the joy-and-pain double helix of existence and finding heavy soul, kicking out a blues rock rumpus in search of salvation…this is the electrifying world of The Black Keys and their sophomore album thickfreakness.
2002 was a heckuva year for The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach, vocals and guitar; Patrick Carney, drums and production). The true-school two-piece came roaring straight of out Akron, Ohio with a debut album The Big Come-Up on the tiny Alive label that garnered barely-contained raves in Rolling Stone, Spin, The Village Voice and MOJO. One listen to The Big Come Up — a startling raw slab of juke-joint blues — validated the band’s rapid ascent from playing for no money on the bottom of the bill at Cleveland’s Beachland Tavern to selling out blistering headline dates and being invited to open for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and (on New Year’s Eve) elder Ohio statesmen Guided By Voices.
With all the righteous acclaim, the band was inevitably enticed by big league offers like so many glasses of carrot juice dangled at the end of an electric cattle prod. But after the results of a trial session in a swank California recording studio proved thoroughly unsatisfying, the band hooked up with Fat Possum Records and reconnoitered back in Akron to craft their Fat Possum debut. Descending to the dank cellar of Carney’s Minimum Wage Studio, the pair dove into 14 straight hours of recording. With no one else in the studio, and Carney dashing back and forth between his drumkit and the mixing board, the two-man immersion tank/musical incubator came alive. “Nothing like being in your own basement surrounded by your own garbage,” says Carney (who incidentally is the nephew of Tom Waits’ longtime sax sideman Ralph Carney).