American garage rockers The Black Keys have returned after five years away from the studio with their ninth album, ‘Let’s Rock’, and it’s fair to say that it leaves more questions than answers about the band’s future.
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s simple but effective blues-inspired brand of music saw them go through a massive purple patch in the first half of this decade after years of slogging it around the US circuit; providing a stream of big hits along the way.
It’s amazing how quickly time moves on though, particularly in music, and the band’s time out to work on other stuff has sadly found them in a weird position on their return; the garage rock revival they helped start is past it’s sell-by date.
The title, ‘Let’s Rock’, is a bit of good-humoured self-awareness that their style can be a little bit meat and spuds sometimes, and this album in particular is more stripped back than any of their last few records.
There are plenty of enjoyable tracks and impressive instrumentation, you’d expect nothing less from a band so experienced, but it really lays the limitations of their style bare. You’re just thinking: “okay…yeah this is all well and good but have you got anything new?”
Don’t get me wrong, tracks like ‘Lo/Hi’ and ‘Shine a Little Light’ are good fun and the more tender moments give you a warm glow, but some other cuts just come across as default rock’n’roll songs. Lyrics about stuff like the open road and being lonesome; bog standard, no frills.
Auerbach and Carney are unbelievably good musicians and that always shines through, but great guitar licks aren’t quite enough to pull the album above average, as the songwriting is just so half-arsed.
The consistent female backing vocals across the record show that they’re willing to outsource at least some of the musical legwork, but from an instrumental point of view it just still just the guitar and drums it’s always been. Having someone play some actual black (and white) keys wouldn’t go amiss.
Moving on is a tough thing when one particular style of music has served you so well, but all the greatest bands in history have done it and The Black Keys certainly have the talent to do it too. They’ve got no choice but to get experimental on their next record, otherwise you’d have to consider the band defunct.