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Album Review: The Black Keys - Let's Rock

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Let's Rock's album cover is a perfect representation of the contrasting tones and content it contains. 

Album Art 'Let's Rock' (2019)

The album opens with an 80s vibe in 'Shine A Little Light', with a suave guitar solo leading us in. Dan Auerbach sings, “Do you feel like you’re the only one / living on a prayer?” and the lyrics, in general, speak of evil and unseeable things being negated by the light. The track is somehow simultaneously calming and a potential head-banger. 

Next up is 'Eagle Birds', a song most up-to-date Black Keys fans will have religiously replayed over and over in anticipation considering the band’s four-year break from releasing new music as Auerbach sings, “Everybody oughta be loved sometime”. It drips into the atmosphere with bouncing fun and joyous lyrics. This continues on into the sultry opening vocals of 'Lo/Hi' - “Nobody to love you / Nobody to care / If you die, nobody will hug you / No one to answer your prayer”. 

'Walk Across The Water' continues this quasi-religious theme in the title, but the lyrics carefully bemoan that the protagonist's love and dreams are dedicated to just a single person. The layered guitar and drum composition to this song hark back to the band’s origins in small-scale venues, and it is possible to imagine the song bouncing off the underground walls of some dark, cavernous music venue with a swaying audience.  The track is concluded with an electrifying guitar solo, which is in contrast to the softly whispered intentions of what comes previously. Following on is the plucky 'Tell Me Lies'. The title of which immediately reminds the listener of Fleetwood Mac’s 'Little Lies' and the chorus certainly pays great homage to that classic from 1987. Dan’s vocals, however, definitely bring a rock mood to this track, particularly by the latter half of the song where the drum bashes in to create a strong uplift from the sentimental, almost self-indulgent nature of the previous track. 

'Every Little Thing' opens with a soundcheck. This song also has a Fleetwood Mac feel, except this time crossed with The Beatles. The song itself has retribution as its message - “doing right / doing wrong/ living life like a song”. Much like the album’s general tone, the guitar rocks hard against morally dubious lyrical content - it is as if the band is accepting that life is complex enough and that it may as well be told to the backdrop of a steady beat. 

'Get Yourself Together' has a jumpy start, with the vocals taking the forefront of the sound. The lyrics are very, very optimistic and urge the antagonist to sort out their life. This song is somewhat different to a lot of the band’s other work as it has a different variation upon the guitar-vocal-drum triadic formula they usually follow. There is more use of almost sound-effect like transitions and the song is actually the longest on the album - as the lyrics say, the band are “taking it slow” here.  

'Sit Around and Miss You' is a complete shift in tone. The lyrical play across the clapping beat recalls the Stealers Wheeler’s 1972 classic 'Stuck In the Middle With You'. But instead of ironically celebrating the position the singer finds themselves, The Black Keys have a calmer, more melancholy rockabilly approach: missing an absence, but remaining upbeat. It's one of the best songs on this album and demonstrates the potential for a possible future evolution of their sound. 

We continue smoothly into the previously released 'Go' - a typical summer haze of a song that breezes on by as the shortest song on the track list. The transition works well into the more melancholy 'Breaking Dow' which plays like a stereotypical quiet song of The Black Keys repertoire and hence feels rather redundant. 'Under The Gun' is also one of the quieter songs, although it quickly speeds up with a harsher bass and showcases a greater dynamic range. The album feels like it loses something after 'Go' and all the songs thereafter feel very similar.

The first eight tracks of the album are very strong. Overall, Let's Rock's tone is that of the 80s summer rock reminiscence with a more up to date flair, especially on 'Lo/Hi', 'Tell Me Lies' and 'Sit Around And Miss You'. Yet Let’s Rock doesn't quite live up to the impeccable work on their breakthrough Brothers or the Grammy-winning El Camino. It is clear, however, from the lyrical melancholy and the precise guitar and vocal harmony, this album marks a solid return for the band.

Let's Rock is out now via Nonesuch Records.

Lead image credit: Album Art 'Let's Rock' (2019)




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