The Black Keys go back to basics in “Let’s Rock”, a catchy and effortless listen. In a primal yet surprisingly multi-layered album, the Akron duo rediscover their mojo.
The Black Keys last released an album in 2014. The three albums before that were all released in the space of three years. Whether it was burnout, other projects, lack of vision, or all three, the Black Keys slowed their schedule to a stop, with Dan Auerbach working with on other band, The Arcs and his solo career; while Patrick Carney produced Michelle Branch’s comeback album and married her shortly after.
The band might have felt that they didn’t know where to go next with their music. 2014’s Turn Blue was different from their previous style. So different that many fans simply didn’t like it – with synth-heavy tracks and a notably more mellow dynamic than previous albums El Camino and Brothers.
Which brings me onto the first thing I really like about “Let’s Rock”. They’ve gone back to their rock roots, but they’ve done it in a way that still feels different and new. Sure, there are no instruments besides guitar, bass, drums and vocals and the tracks are riff-heavy, but that isn’t a step backwards. I often criticise bands for making the same album over and over but “Let’s Rock”, despite being much closer in style to the likes of Brothers and El Camino, does enough to differentiate between the older albums. The down-tuning of guitars, for example, means that the riffs are heavier. Opener, Shine a Little Light, demonstrates this. In fact, “Let’s Rock” is the duo’s heaviest album to date, with the likes of Breaking Down veering on the hard rock with its highly-driven guitar tones.
Though not as upbeat as 2011’s El Camino, the new album has a much lighter mood than Turn Blue. Another thing I like is that, although it’s definitely an all-out rock album, you can still hear the elements of the blues that has influenced the band’s career. Walk Across The Water is used to neutralise the energy of previous track, Lo/Hi, and keeps the album from blending into a riff-rock haze. Sit Around and Miss You, though less bluesy, serves the same purpose. It’s no coincidence that these two tracks are a third and two-thirds of the way through the album. As a result, the album flows without getting samey.
It’s not all laid-back though. Every Little Thing and Breaking Down sound new for The Black Keys because they’re more aggressive than almost anything else they’ve done. With riffs that you might expect from a metal band, these two tracks break up the driving rock of “Let’s Rock” just as effectively as the softer two tracks.
The tracks aren’t as deep as those on Turn Blue, or as infectious as those on El Camino, but long-term fans of The Black Keys will be delighted with the new direction of the band. My personal bests from “Let’s Rock” are Tell Me Lies, Go and Fire Walk With Me.
What this is then, is a return to the easy-listening rock of the band’s earlier career, but a return that comes with it’s own sound. The songs are mostly back to being three minutes guitar-driven bops, but there’s some depth in other places to back that up. Add in some fantastic female backing vocals, tight production and cool new guitar tones, and it makes an album for the summer.
Overall, “Let’s Rock” is a lot of fun, with bags of energy and a raft of catchy choruses and killer riffs. It also sounds like they’ve figured out what they should sound like and made peace with it. Perhaps the duo’s other projects have helped them focus on the strengths of The Black Keys?
Even though “Let’s Rock” is their ninth album, it feels fresh. It’s also reassuringly similar, in a well-executed throwback. What’s not to like?