Music Reviews
"Let's Rock"

The Black Keys "Let's Rock"

(Nonesuch) Rating - 7/10

No one knows better than the Black Keys that success came at the right time, and that it'll only decrease with time. Which is why it's fitting that on their latest, "Let's Rock," the Akron, Ohio-formed duo would want to keep expectations in check by outsmarting everyone else. After taking on a widescreen rock sound on 2010's Brothers, quickly followed with 2011's Grammy-winning El Camino, the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney had set themselves in an advantageous position—gaining the respect of the new and old guard with their back-to-basics blues-rock. Given that the genre lacks any iconic figures as of late outside of artists like Jack White and Gary Clark, Jr. (though you could make the case that both are more respected for their technical chops than their songwriting merits), they're a known quantity who don't overshadow each other.

The Black Keys are also honest about where they stand—"Let's Rock" does rock, and it works to their advantage that they conceived their ninth album in more modest terms. Lo/Hi and Every Little Thing flare up with bludgeoning riffs and a touch of glam pizzazz, where the duo casually jam it out without paying much heed to a sticky, stadium-reaching chorus. Auerbach, once a husky, weathered singer with a powerful falsetto, doesn't force his voice as he used to, bringing a tenous approach that counters his powerful guitar dynamics—take Breaking Down, which takes some of the psychedelic influence of 2014's Turn Blue before rises into a frenzied conclusion. Frequent collaborator Danger Mouse once again lends his productions talents, though you can't even tell—sans for the jolting Go, as Auerbach welcomes the summer with a beachy, mid-tempo groove over a clapping backbeat.

If "Let's Rock" seems too relaxed at times, well, it's mostly due to the duo's adherence to writing songs that move to a steady pulse. Most of Auberbach's lyrical content is perfunctory, meant to serve a rhythm and tempo—the choruses are relatable, but don't reveal too much outside of their simple sentiment. Nevertheless, their effortless chemistry is what makes it work— Carney's assertive timekeeping, alongside Auerbach's effortless stylistic changes (from soulful Motown and intricate soft-rock to boogie rock), is a testament to their over twenty years pursuing the project. Maybe stripping things down is the best pick-me-up after a five-year absence due to their commitment to other artists' projects. The duo's closeness shows in their competent performances, and "Let's Rock" is faithful in intent and execution. But it can also come across as a cheat—it's easy to fool anyone that you've done something worthy when you undersell it.