What separates the Black Keys from the White Stripes and the Kills? Balance. Whereas the former are a blues duo in the sense that the Captain and Tennille are a rock duo, and the latter are blues as heard through a goth's ears, the Black Keys tear through the middle ground. It's no coincidence that they make such malleable blues-rock; after all, they come from rubbery Akron, Ohio.
On their fourth LP, the Keys opt for an album of raw grit that makes its predecessor, the majestic Rubber Factory, sound downright orchestral. Recorded in a basement, drummer Pat Carney and guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach attempt to exorcise demons through six-string assaults, madcap drumming and a remarkably authentic blues wail.
The remarkable one-two-three punch that begins the festivities is untouchable. "Just Got to Be" is a face-melter that nicely segues into the hallowed-out crunch of "Your Touch," before things cool down with the Zeppelin-esque barroom blues of "You're the One."
Depending on your tolerance for retro-blues, the album can get repetitious. "The Flame" is intriguingly noirish, and "Goodbye Babylon" stabs and cuts in perfectly measured doses, but the staccato blasts of "Back Door" and closing thrash of "Elevator" are forgettable. Still, the Black Keys can take pride in releasing this year's best white-blues-duo album.