The Black Keys
The Black Keys (photo by Alysse Gafkjen, PR)
The Black Keys
Nonesuch/Easy Eye Sound Records
Watch out, the Black Keys are back and they are ready to rock. It’s been five years since Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney's last album, over three years since the pair toured, and as they explained to Anthony Mason at CBS News, the demands of touring frayed their own relationship. A hiatus was necessary. (Listen to a terrific preview special with the Black Keys, courtesy of our friends at The Current.)
Thankfully, the duo couldn’t stay apart any longer. Their electric new album is simply and accurately called Let’s Rock. After working with Danger Mouse over their last four albums, Auerbach and Carney decided to go it alone as producers on Let’s Rock, making it the first album they created basically all themselves since 2006’s Magic Potion. The sessions started last September and marked the first time the pair worked together since the end of the Turn Blue tour.
Auerbach and Carney's extensive work outside of the Black Keys has fed into Let's Rock. Auerbach released two albums — 2015's Yours, Dreamily with his other band, the Arcs, and his own second solo record, Waiting on a Song. As an in-demand producer, working from his own Easy Eye Sound studios in Nashville, he produced albums by Pretenders, Cage the Elephant, Jake Bugg, Yola, and Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams.
Carney, who also operates his own Nashville recording studio, Audio Eagle Studio, produced albums for Tobias Jesso Jr. and Jessy Wilson. Notably, he also produced Michelle Branch’s 2017 album, Hopeless Romantic, which was extremely romantic: Branch and Carney are now married. In addition to composing for television and hosting a radio show, Carney is half of another duo with John Petkovic called Sad Planets; they released their debut album, Akron, Ohio a few months ago.
Coming together after those years apart was key for Auerbach and Carney. As they wrote and recorded Let's Rock, they stripped the sound back to the basics – just guitar and drums, no keyboards. This makes Let’s Rock an album reminiscent of their earlier efforts; in a press release Carney has called the album, “an homage to electric guitar.” (Actually, a touch of synthesized programming makes a brief appearance in “Walk Across The Water.”)
Let’s Rock blazes out of the gate with “Shine A Little Light,” which is all riffs, pounding beat, and a melodic chorus. “Eagle Birds” is a T.Rex-styled blues boogie, while “Every Little Thing” opens with a bluesy riff and develops into a ‘70s style, guitar-rock cruncher. Psychedelia meets grunge in “Breaking Down,” which has lighter moments featuring electric sitar, combined with a fuzzed-out, pulverizing riff.
Besides leaning heavily on the signature guitar and drums sound that powered the Black Keys' early records, there are a number of songs on Let’s Rock that are clearly influenced by Auerbach and Carney's past work with Danger Mouse. “Get Yourself Together” is one song that resembles a track from a more recent Auerbach or Black Keys project, before it develops into a guitar free-for-all. The poppy “Sit Around And Miss You” is an easygoing track that rides along on a “Proud Mary”-reminiscent rhythm, while the opening of “Under The Gun” hints at Free's riff from “All Right Now.”
Simple and straightforward is the way to go for the Black Keys and “Lo/Hi” and “Go” exemplify this timeless approach. From top to bottom, Let’s Rock is all Black Keys – written, produced and performed by Auerbach and Carney. Well, they do get occasional help from backing vocalists Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson.
Much of Let’s Rock is what the Black Keys do best: honest, no-frills rock, straight out of a garage filled with classic records. On Let’s Rock, the back-together Black Keys let it come together naturally. It’s how they got started and it’s what’s driving them today. It's good to have them back.