The Black Keys reach for their roots with ‘Let’s Rock’

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Once on top of the modern rock charts, the Black Keys have finally made their comeback after five years of silence: With Let’s Rock, released June 28, the band has tossed out what it knows will be a crowd pleaser. 

Let’s Rock successfully lets fans know that the Black Keys are working to recreate their original sound. The majority of this album is grungy arena rock, drawing influence from the style that made the band famous with albums such as 2011’s El Camino and 2004’s Rubber Factory. With its cleaner-cut and softer sound, the band’s 2014 album Turn Blue notably deviated from the garage rock with a vein of blues that dedicated fans had come to expect. In Let’s Rock, you won’t find any more long and soulful songs — band members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney keep the guitars messy and the drums heavy. The album does an excellent job of making fans nostalgic for the mid-2000s. 

The beauty of Let’s Rock is that each song surprises you at first but then settles into the traditional Keys song that fans know and love. The album starts out loud and softens toward the middle, only to pick back up, as any worthy rock album should, near the end. Opening number “Shine a Little Light” sets the mood with hard riffs and a great beat. The following five songs can be hard to differentiate at first, since they all have the same base drums and fuzzy guitar. But with each subsequent listen, each song begins to develop its own distinct personality, and these personalities come together to create the whole of the album.

Released as singles earlier this year, “Go” and “Lo/Hi” were already fan favorites, having received 5 million and 16.5 million streams, respectively, before Let’s Rock was dropped. While the songs’ popularity may be a symptom of how parched for fresh Keys music dedicated fans had become, they’re also undeniable hit material. “Lo/Hi” feels like a trip down memory lane — with its heavy servings of distortion and a catchy riff, it’s a super hit that blends multiple early-2000s and late-’90s alternative songs together. “Go” is equally catchy, giving off surf rock vibes with a pop influence. 

Toward the end of the album, “Breaking Down” refreshingly returns to softer tones that vaguely resemble those from Turn Blue while still encompassing the riff-dominated sound of the other tracks on Let’s Rock. The addition of a few milder songs to the album accentuates the thunder of the last few songs.

But Let’s Rock still doesn’t fully capture the glory of El Camino or 2010’s Brothers. While it emulates the Keys’ blues-rock foundation, it ultimately strays from the band’s original fire. The album is missing some of the rawness that made the Black Keys indie superstars. Some songs off of the album, such as “Eagle Birds” and “Fire Walk With Me,” sound like Auerbach and Carney wanted to return back to the days of El Camino but couldn’t quite figure out how to do so. It sounds like the duo is trying just a bit too hard to make these songs work, a deviation from the effortless-sounding composition of previous staple albums.

The Black Keys can expect much commercial success from Let’s Rock. This album is different but familiar — it gives fans a style similar to that of 2011 Keys but is lacking the sense of easy passion that used to define the group. The fact that this album isn’t exactly what the Black Keys used to be like, however, doesn’t mean it’s unworthy of praise. Let’s Rock holds its own among the other Keys monster albums it’s been pitted against. It marks a new era for the Black Keys, one defined by thick guitars and mainstream popularity, and it’s exactly what fans need at this time.

Contact Pooja Balee at [email protected].