Published Jul 17, 2019The Black Keys return with their first album in five years, "Let's Rock", featuring 40 minutes of slick and simple tunes, and plenty of the aforementioned rocking.
To call the gap a hiatus would be a bit misleading — both band members released albums during the break, with Dan Auerbach also launching a record label while Patrick Carney penned music for BoJack Horseman.
Album opener "Shine A Little Light" starts off a hooky guitar line and a steady kick drum that eases you in to a wall of fuzzed-out guitar chords, followed by an equally massive lick, with some tasty vibrato from Auerbach. It's a declaration, much like the album's title, quotation marks and all: the Black Keys are back, and they're here to play some rock'n'roll.
The duo fire through the first three cuts in under nine minutes — "Eagle Birds" brings some dirty blues-rock vibes, and "Lo/Hi" oozes head-bopping swagger with some sultry backing vocals and harmonies.
"Walk Across the Water" features typical Black Keys fuzzy single-note riffs, but they're paired with the laidback, sunny vocals that Auerbach sprinkled across his latest solo release. It's a welcome change of pace, along with flourishes of Hendrix-style guitar embellishments.
Those Hendrix elements pop up again on "Every Little Thing," with a watery UniVibe effect coating Auerbach's guitar playing, crescendoing
into a soaring, amplifier-exploding solo.
Auerbach's guitar playing shines throughout the record, with sweet slide lines on "Get Yourself Together" and channelling Slowhand-era Clapton on the otherwise sleepy "Sit Around and Miss You." But the six-string is matched every step of the way by the steady hands (and feet) of Carney. Even after a five-year gap, his drumming is still unmistakable: no-frills rhythms that drive the tracks forward, with grooves that hook into your ear and head straight down to your toes, tapping along before you even realize it.
Some of Carney's best moments on the record come on "Go" — a track that sounds like it could have been pulled from the middle of 2011's El Camino. Carney's driving beat seems poised to pummel arena audiences on tour, while Auerbach's catchy one-word chorus guarantees a spirited sing-along.
The production across all 12 tracks is stellar. Expertly balanced and slick without becoming sterile — a problem that plagued the band a half-decade ago on Turn Blue.
"Let's Rock" is stripped-down, straightforward and ultimately, a blast. Not a single track meanders past the four-minute mark, bringing the band's best to the forefront: Fun jams chock full of Big Riff Energy. (Nonesuch)