A brilliant step left, but by no means forward
We all know that movie stars look way cooler when they’re walking down a set in slow motion. With that image in mind, try and imagine the music for it. Everyone knows the kind, swathing in dirty bass lines and wicked guitar riffs. For lack of a better word, music that is pretty badass. Now if you’re still struggling to think of a song, then think no further, because The Black Keys’ Let’s Rock is made for any good slow-mo trope. It is an album that celebrates the eternal qualities of classic rock, it is an ode to the guitar and a magical establishment of the genre within a modern day context. This album has all the makings it needs to be the best of its kind around today, and any newcomer to the genre, or the band, will find everything they need in Let’s Rock. More devout fans may have a harder time finding a fondness for the record, depending on what they’re looking for. If it’s the raw, alt-rock beginnings that made The Black Keys, this may not be the answer, but if it’s just good music that they’re after, on any account, then this is it.
There truly are some great moments of old school, hardcore rock on the record. The name does kind of say it all, and it’s refreshing to hear music as prevailing as this. Though formulaic in its composition, and slightly predictable, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to get up and jam out when listening to Let’s Rock. The album also shows off some interesting blues-inspired melodies, as well as pop-undertones. The feel of flowing synths and female backing vocals is somewhat new to the band and it might be the touch it needs to appeal to a wider audience. Tracks like “Shine A Little Light” and “Under The Gun” have some dazzling riffs and one can’t help but feel as though they’re in a stand-off or part of some ambitious money heist with a serious pay-off. The screeching runs and distorted drops that close off “Lo/Hi” are appropriately indulgent, and guitar licks like this don’t get much better.
One also cannot deny the sultry appeal of Dan Auerbach’s vocals, and in essence, they’re what reiterates the band’s long-standing identity. His voice lifts the music from a standard rock album to a standard Black Keys rock album, and bring another element for listeners to hold on to. “Get Yourself Together” has the kind of old-school, rolling bass line that makes you want to get on the dance floor and stick your tongue out, while “Every Little Thing” has an infectious groove that you can’t keep out of your bones. “Walk Across The Water” and “Sit Around And Miss You” brings a necessary contrast to the otherwise high energy tracks, as they slow things down a bit. They feel likes ballads, which isn’t entirely characteristic of the band’s music, though somehow they seem to make sense in the sequencing of the album.
As good as the record is, it’s nothing new for The Black Keys. We’ve all heard classic done well, and there is no doubt that this is classic rock at its finest, but the album is not at all as groundbreaking as their older stuff. When The Black Keys started off their sound was so undeniably them that it was unmatched by any other rock group at the time, and while their music still is unique, it’s not changing enough for us to get excited about it.
Let’s Rock was not the reinvention the band needed and does not prove their versatility or progressiveness. This is more of a retake, a step slightly left, but by no means forward. Let’s Rock lacks the very thing that made albums like Brothers and El Camino so successful, and that is the fact that they are timeless. This new album may become boring after a while, and its lack of diversity does not represent the truest identity of The Black Keys. Maybe they didn’t have the courage to step away from that identity, and maybe it’s better they played it safe because we all know of far too many bands that have caved in after their success.
When all is said and done, Let’s Rock is yet again proof of the fact that The Black Keys know how to make music, and make it well, but maybe for their return (if there is one), they should push boundaries, find newness in experimentation and most importantly, evolve to become better than what we expect of them.