The Black Keys - "Let's Rock"

Ohio rockers The Black Keys, the duo comprised of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, have risen from basement dwelling garage rockers to one of the biggest bands in the world. Their earliest records put them in the same vein as other bands (The White Stripes, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, etc.) revitalizing rock music and bringing it out of the corporate, uninspiring mess it had become.

 The Black Keys brought their affinity for Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf inspired blues licks and creatively infused them with a new brand of murky, underground garage rock. Running into the early 2010s, the Black Keys audience multiplied exponentially off the back of Brothers and El Camino. Sadly as their fame grew, it seemed as if their inspiration took a dip, with 2014’s Turn Blue being their weakest received album to date.

After a five-year hiatus, The Black Keys are back with 2019’s “Let’s Rock.” As the title seems to suggest, this is return to the bare-bones rock sound that gained the band their initial following. Without the production hand of Danger Mouse, who worked on the last three Black Keys albums, the duo strips down their sound significantly, focusing the attention on the muddy riffs and heavy drumming. Sadly, while this may be the welcome return listeners may have desired from Dan and Patrick, the two sound dialed in, offering up a paint-by-numbers recreation of The Black Keys of old. The rawness and visceral energy is still lacking.

That’s not to say “Let’s Rock” doesn’t have its moments. Opener “Shine a Little Light” blows by with Auerbach’s rugged vocals and fiery, fist-pumping riffage. “Every Little Things” successfully utilizes a loud/quiet dynamic. There is a psychedelic edge while Auerbach’s vocals are smoothed out without completely sacrificing its edges.

While the highlights are there, most of these twelve tunes simply skate by. “Lo/Hi” features a bouncy, shuffle rhythm that recalls the swampy sounds of CCR, but its flat chorus quickly kills the appeal. The single “Go” leaves very little to hook in the listener with a half-baked hook and a polished instrumental that is considerably void of texture and color.

There are not many considerably bad songs on this album. There also aren’t very many considerably exciting tunes present either. For a Black Keys fan, “Let’s Rock” will be perfectly pleasant and serviceable. But that is all it is, pleasant and serviceable. Most tunes lack a missing ingredient, a missing injection of charisma and passion. At its best moments, there are catchy riffs that will radiate through arenas this fall. Most of the time, however, “Let’s Rock” is bland and unimaginative. This album definitely nails The Black Keys formula, but it sounds like The Black Keys formula needs a reinvention.

 Grade: C

Matt Marciniec