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‘DD Review: The Black Keys – “Let’s Rock”‘

Score: 7.5/10

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Yeah, the stakes is high. I suppose so. I personally tend to veer toward the egotistical. He**, I clearly value my own opinion on most things, provided that they’re music, sports or beer, and that’s about three and a half times as much satisfaction as my hometown is typically willing to afford me. And I grew up four hours east of Akron, Ohio.

As you see, the last three prior reviews I’ve done on this site have been of “blokes,” and they’ve all been a 10. Now it comes time for the American lo-fi junkyard dogs gone arena rock, reconvening in their 30’s and trying to stir up some of the old magic. Either Dan Auerbach has huge bags under his eyes from hard drug use or he’s wearing the worst eye shadow ever manufactured (like the lead singer of The Cure or something). No pressure, guys.

But they were always good at disguising themselves, anyway. Their record label for their breakthrough, Rubber Factory, was Fat Possum out of the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, and even as a Hoosier I’d always grown up THINKING they were from the South, or just assuming as much. Actually, I discovered a Gary rapper, Freddie Gibbs, from 60 miles west of me, in a British magazine NME, so this sh** can certainly be pretty anonymous and geographically immaterial.

Ok, the songs. Get to the songs. My first impression of this new Black Keys record was that it was LOUD. It was like a version of El Camino that was really loud and really heeded the instructions explicated in the album title. From the looks of it, the band produced and mixed it themselves, down in Nashville (which is where I originally thought they were from) [1]. Another is that they move along really quickly: none of these tracks is really epic and I seemed to blink and miss “Lo/Hi,” which perhaps wasn’t that memorable of a musical swatch anyway. Along these lines and to this album’s credit, it does have 12 songs on it, a high number by these days’ standards (with Soundgarden and rap in general being like those undervalued oxen of the ’90s who are like, “We put a million songs on all our CD’s… LP’s!”) [2]

This is to say nothing of “Eagle Birds” and “Walk across the Water,” which are both highly enjoyable, climactic radio rock songs. The latter, at track four, marks the album’s first ballad, and seems to preternaturally tackle a grandiose lyrical theme of quasi-divinity, but do so in a way that isn’t too ham-handed or bombastic that it makes it awkward.

The way I see it, the primary flaw of “Let’s Rock” is that… um… it’s American. There, I said it. It’s like quintessentially American. It’s like there’s a part of these guys’ brains that’s like attached to an electric dog collar that will shock them every time they say something that isn’t stupid or intellectually subservient to women. The lyrical themes are big and insipid, featuring things like “eagles” and “walking on water” and “Tell Me Lies” reminded me of some hopelessly corny Stevie Nicks song or something. Are the rest of these songs on this album good? I mean I suppose so… I randomly flipped to “Breaking down” and surprisedly found it to be like this groove-laden lounge-rock with blithe guitar blips reminiscent more of Steely Dan than the sort of angry Delta blues that put this band on the map. The Black Keys have definitely “gone pop” but at the same time they’re putting a level of feeling into their songs which should cement them as an enjoyable listen.

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[1] I think with all the studios down there and talent it surrounding towns like Louisville, Asheville and in Nashville itself, this would be a great time to set up an indie label in the Music City.

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[2] Granted, hip-hop albums are likely easier to mix seeing as they don’t typically include any organic instrumentation.

 

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