Album Reviews music

Black Keys Reclaim Their Gilded Groove

Akron duo end hiatus with familiar, rowdy blues rock on the aptly titled, Let’s Rock.

“What’s going on with The Black Keys?”

That’s a thought that’s come to my mind sporadically over their five-year absence.

During their hibernation, rock saw a new, branded resurgence of throwback tributes — the wham-bam-glam of The Struts, the atomic rise of Led Zeppelin wannabes Greta Van Fleet who even questioned the Black Keys’ relevancy.

The Black Keys led a similar charge for a generational wave of rock and alternative blues when they revved up their engine in the early aughts. But now, with a little salt and pepper in the hair of drummer Patrick Carney, and the bags under vocalist Dan Auerbach’s eyes growing heavier by the day, there’s a new sense of purpose and feeling behind the music, even if it isn’t the most intricate.

Let’s Rock, the band’s ninth album, adapts the pop sheen of their radio rock opus El Camino with a melodic memory foam that made their last record, 2014’s Turn Blue, so comfortable and cozy (even if some critics disagreed).

And it clearly looks like the band is having some fun in this new chapter, as made evident in their reversion to a not-so-serious music video approach for single “Go,” a nod to past videos like “Tighten Up.”

Besides all of this fanfare, the record is much-needed not only for the realm of rock, but for the cultural zeitgeist in general. Middle America was desperate for some new Black Keys in our airwaves, and Let’s Rock provides that in spades.

Lead single “Lo/Hi” is a prime contender off the bat with its sleazy ZZ Top riptide riff and Auerbach’s vocal, swerving in and out of the corresponding valleys and skies.

Carney and Auerbach attempt to sort out their differences in “Go” video. Photo courtesy of Warner Records.

A lot of the tracks on Let’s Rock fit perfectly as the soundtrack for a 70s road trip, just cruising down the freeway in a dingy, smokey van (one with some type of dragon plastered on the side).

The jumpy instrumental “Go” begs for the wind to be felt through your hair at breakneck speed, while track “Eagle Birds” puts a leather jacket and shades on the “Tequilla Sunrise” bird classic rock brands as it’s mascot.

Inspiration from the era is the most obvious on “Tell Me Lies,” which sounds like a near direct rip off of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies,” either due to it’s innocent cadence, soft, harmonic vocal or the word itself.

The Black Keys had more control in letting their inspirations take form on this record by putting themselves in the producer’s chair, with Dead Mouse (Brian Burton) stepping down from his four-album producing streak with the duo. Burton was the one that helped The Black Keys make the shift from an underground, van travelling band to reluctant next generation rockers making their name in arenas and worldwide festivals.

It seems that their hiatus not only served as a creative refresher, but brought great personal satisfaction, too.

Auerbach kept busy with a myriad of projects, putting out the solo record “Waiting on a Song,” which featured an impressive roster of industry veterans like John Prine and Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits).

Carney settled down, had a kid, married singer-songwriter Michelle Branch and even co-produced her last record, 2017’s Hopeless Romantic.

This much needed time off gave the Keys the freedom to experiment and add new elements to their sound. You can hear a sitar in “Breaking Down” that transports you to a sunny 60s. The boys embrace a new level of darkness on “Walk Across The Water,” perhaps the best song on the album, that builds off Gothic, Black Sabbath-like opening chords.

Let’s Rock works because it’s The Black Keys doing what they do best: creating ear worm rock songs of influence’s past perfect for today. Their time away proved how comfortable we had become with their sound around, and how much we didn’t know we would end up missing it when it was gone.

Let’s Rock Rating: 8.5/10

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