What qualifies as an important record? Is it rarity? Collectability? No, while these things are important to someone who is into collecting records as investment? It is indeed not what makes a great record. The music, the mastering, the pressing and the artwork are what makes a great record, because if it is not truly a creative force behind the project, it is dead on arrival.
In the past three or four years, America has started to pay attention to a ‘new band’ from Akron Ohio. Two white guys with the souls of bluesmen who form a two man outfit called The Black Keys. They first began to make a little bit of noise when they released a single in 2006 called ‘Your Touch’ off of their 5th release entitled ‘Magic Potion’. There was something new and yet completely familiar to the formula that Guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney had put together. The following two releases, 2008’s Brothers and 2011’s El Camino would see the two tour the world several times and win Grammy after Grammy. The hipsters jumped on the bandwagon and all of a sudden the Black Keys were a household name. People would run up to them and congratulate them on their debut record ‘Brothers’ even though the duo had recorded 5 albums prior. Ahh, the wonders of success, much reminiscent to fans jumping on Nirvana’s bandwagon in 1991 and claimed to be down from the beginning even though they did not realize Nirvana had already released a full length debut a year prior.
All of this is irrelevant thou as we are going to look at the beginnings of a band that now seemed poised for success from the beginning, although for years this band received no airplay and did what they were best at…delivering hard edged electric dirty riff blues and toured the country on the strength of their live show.
In 2002 an independent label called Alive records released the classic album The Big Come Up, the debut record from the Black Keys and we have finally reached our review which is, of course, the moment you have all been waiting for.
The Big Come Up is one of those records that would consider an important record. It is loud, edgy and in your face, paying tribute to a wide array of artistic influences from Junior Kimbrough to Captain Beefheart. The album is one of the best examples of lo-fi recordings around. This record feels like it was recorded in a garage instead of a studio. It is dirty and raw and doesn’t feel like there was any tweaking of the soundboards, instead going from the amplifier to the record and then to your ears.
The 180 gram pressing is raw and loud and far superior to the cd which is overdriven and clips like mad during the louder points of the songs. The album contains the first of several tributes to one of their influences, Junior Kimbrough, later they would record an entire EP of Kimbrough’s songs. This album contains a reinvention of his song Do the Rump. From the very beginning it is certain that these two Akron natives are not just going through the motions of playing the blues, they are living and feeling the blues with each and every note.
My only complaint about this album is the lack of love this album receives in their live shows. The only track that is included in their live sets is the album’s single ‘I’ll be your man’. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great track, however, there are songs on this album with strength that far surpasses their other outings.
In short, The Big Come Up is an important record. It’s the starting point of a band, who have achieved critical success however have not yet begun to scratch the surface of what they are capable of. This album needs to be in your LP collection. If it is not, make sure it gets added soon.