I have a certain respect for rock bands that use electric chairs as their album’s cover art. The Black Keys’ newest release, stylized as “Let’s Rock”, does exactly that. As far as rock album cover art goes, the electric chair gets the job done: it sets up the listener for an album that is pure rock as only the Black Keys can do.
“Let’s Rock” is Dan Auerbach’s and Patrick Carney’s first album in five years, and the first after their self-admitted burnout period. The world was a very different place in 2014, and all things considered The Black Keys were in a very different place then as well, but “Let’s Rock” is probably as good of a hiatus-breaking album as fans could have hoped for.
Several tracks — “Shine a Little Light,” “Go,” “Lo/Hi,” and “Get Yourself Together” — have heavy, heavy guitar, face-melting shreds, and catchy tunes that make the album an automatic mainstay in The Black Keys discography. None of the songs have the same urgency as Gold on the Ceiling, for example, but by forgoing the intense vocals “Let’s Rock” puts the instruments first and makes for excellent jam-out, background rock that is just deep enough to make the lyrics worth listening to.
But tracks like “Tell Me Lies” and “Sit Around and Miss You” feel stale. When an album is five years in the making the sparks of creativity that make albums like El Camino stand out fade over time, and tracks can lose their edge. “Lets Rock” is certainly not immune to that kind of creative atrophy, although it does a good job trying to fight it by investing so heavily in the guitar to the welcomed detriment of other instruments, such as the keyboard (this last point was explored in a New York Times piece about the album).
Ultimately, some bands either have it or they don’t. The Black Keys have “it” — that deep well of creativity that allows them to make an effortlessly excellent album like “Lets Rock” after a five-year break. It is not the band’s best production, but for fans of contemporary rock it more than fits the bill.
Stars: 2.5 (out of four)