ALBUM REVIEW: The Black Keys Get Back to Basics (Sort of) on “Let’s Rock”

The Akron duo’s first self-produced record in 13 years is, if nothing else, catchy as hell.

The Black Keys’ last album, 2014’s Turn Blue, was confusing. On one hand, it saw the Akron duo venture well outside their comfort zone with the help of producer Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse. On the other hand, the band that’s heard on Turn Blue bared little resemblance to garage/blues rockers of the Rubber Factory era. 

While Danger Mouse served as full or part-time producer on three of the band’s previous albums (Attack & Release, Brothers and El Camino), his overwhelming work on Turn Blue felt like an attempt at becoming the third member of the band. Among other things, the swirling synths and production-drenched effects got in the way of Dan Auerbach’s divorce-focused lyrics, creating a listening experience that felt significantly longer than it actually was.

When the Keys announced a new album entitled, “Let’s Rock”, many were expecting a back-to-basics rock and roll record more akin to their earlier work than Turn Blue. On top of this, for the first time since 2006’s Magic Potion, Danger Mouse doesn’t produce a single song on the record, with the band doing themselves like the old days. The resulting album fits nicely into the Black Keys’ discography next to Brothers and El Camino, while not fully delivering on its title’s throwback promise.

First and foremost, “Let’s Rock” is catchy as hell. The opening track, “Shine A Little Light,” is one of the hardest hitting tracks in the band’s catalog, while “Walk Across the Water” and “Get Yourself Together” show their softer and energetic sides, respectively. Closing tracks “Under The Gun” and “Fire Walk With Me” do an effective job of closing out the record on a high note.

Auerbach’s divorce is once again the primary source for much of the lyrical content, most notably on “Sit Around And Miss You,” where he sings, “I miss the friend I had now.” It’s one of the most relatable lines of the album, but it’s accompanied by strange production choices and instrumentation that sounds distractingly similar to Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.”

“Let’s Rock” is a good album. It lacks the raw power of the band’s earlier work and the immediacy of their early days with Danger Mouse, but it’s certainly a big step up from Turn Blue.  

Score: ⚡⚡⚡.5 / 5

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