PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Black Keys Celebrate the Electric Guitar on 'Let's Rock'

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen

The Black Keys loudly rock out with Let's Rock, an album celebrating the directness and enjoyment of the electric guitar.

Let's Rock
The Black Keys

Easy Eye Sound / Nonesuch

28 June 2019

When "Lo/Hi" was released as a single in March, it was clear that Dan Auerbach was going to keep his softer vocal style adopted for his new album with the Black Keys. Recorded as an ode to the electric guitar according to Patrick Carney, the Keys' ninth album, Let's Rock, accentuates Auerbach's vocal style from Waiting on a Song (2017) further with louder, dynamic guitar work and Carney's deliberate and effective drums and percussion. Together Auerbach and Carney have been a strong duo and their work as the Black Keys has consistently delivered soaring 21st-century rock that is retro, DIY, and emblematic of modern marketing tools. Let's Rock progresses the Black Keys by staying true to Auerbach and Carney's shared interests while emphasizing their collaborative success and incorporating new influences and styles from solo and side projects.

After a five-year delay following 2014's Turn Blue, rumors swirled that the duo had a falling out, but as Carney revealed the two simply needed to unwind from years on the road. Both also pursued individual projects: Auerbach formed the Arcs, released a solo album and produced prolifically; Carney recorded the theme song for Netflix's Bojack Horseman, produced an album with Michelle Branch (and married her earlier this year), and formed Sad Planets with John Petkovic and released Akron, Ohio, an ode to his hometown.

Let's Rock resulted from those projects, at least in the new ventures and career directions of both Auerbach and Carney. It was recorded at Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville and was produced only by the two. The album's sound is similar to their early records but with the production capabilities afforded by their success and craft after eight albums, extensive touring, and "normalcy" as Carney called the last few years.

Auerbach's vocal style is the most apparent difference for Let's Rock in comparison to the raw and rougher style he had used on previous efforts. It's softer, too, and complemented by loud and distinctive guitar across the entire record. Opening track "Shine a Little Light" blasts a bombastic and sweltering guitar performance, and cuts like "Sit Around and Miss You" and "Breaking Down" feature distinctive and 1970s-esque jangly guitar parts that simplify the overproduction of albums like Turn Blue to highlight the musicianship and rock the Black Keys celebrate with Let's Rock.

The third single "Go" is built around a grungy guitar performance and riffs, and its music video pokes fun at the supposed rift that existed between Carney and Auerbach. A psychiatrist abruptly tells Auerbach and Carney they "at the Black Keys goddammit, America's sweetheart", telling them all they have to do is "talk". It's a subtle nod that may only reference the rumored rift between the two, but after listening to Let's Rock it could also be a reference to the simplicity of the album and its directness in the lyrics and music.

The album's focus on simplicity, with guitar and drums out front, offers a groovy and moody tracklist altogether, and a feeling of love for their music and their friendship between Auerbach and Carney. "Walk Across the Water" carries this theme of love and support strongly, albeit without necessarily pointing at the camaraderie and collaboration of the duo. Alternatively, "Under the Gun" exudes solitude and running from pressure, an admission of the duo's frenetic career over the past two decades?

Let's Rock is a brisk 39 minutes and closes emphatically with "Fire Walk With Me", a track that admits to being tired and confronting external pressure. That notion of external pressure is a looser theme across the tracks, featured most prominently on "Every Little Thing", where Auerbach's lyrics warn against actions you wouldn't want turning back on you. One of the strongest aspects of Let's Rock is how it grows with repeated listens, closer "Fire Walk With Me" turns back into opener "Shine a Little Light" nicely. Repeated listening is a benefit from Let's Rock, and the band's promotion that it includes 12 gems is less of a boast when you revisit the album repeatedly.

The album's style initially seems to steer starkly away from the band's catalog, particularly in returning to the Black Keys' DIY and self-production ethos. That's where its "gems" lay, by returning to their stylistic roots and incorporating recent projects and efforts, the Black Keys have delivered on the album's promise and in review, this is a strong rock album: lyrically moody and musically loud.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.