Let’s Rock is the first Black Keys album since the psychedelic soul-garage-rock of 2014’s True Blue. In the five years since, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney each worked on their own projects. Auerbach released an album and a handful of singles with his dream-soul-retro-pop project The Arcs as well as his second solo album, the well-received Waiting on a Song, and started the Easy Eye Sound label, named after his studio in Nashville where Let’s Rock was recorded. Easy Eye has released Auerbach-produced albums from several Americana-leaning artists, including Yola and The Gibson Brothers, plus posthumous work from Leo Bud Welch and Link Wray. Carney has worked with a variety of artists as well in the interim, including Michelle Branch and Calvin Johnson. Now they’ve reconvened, stripped down to just the essentials (guitar/bass/drums), got help from Ashley Wilcoxson and Leisa Hans on backing vocals throughout, and bashed out 40 minutes of pure rock and roll.
Make no mistake, Let’s Rock is a rock and roll album. The “rock” is what makes the heads bang and the fists pump, but the “roll” makes the hips grind and the asses shake. And let’s be honest: There hasn’t been a lot of ass-shaking or hip-grinding in rock music in the last few decades. As rock became both heavier and more cerebral, those who wanted to dance moved over to soul and funk at first, then on to disco and hip-hop. Rock guitars became virtuosic show-off machines more than the percussive riff-makers they were while under the care of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley as well as Jimmy Reed and even Angus Young.
Let’s Rock returns the guitar to its rightful place: on the bandstand and in charge of a packed dance floor. Auerbach’s riffs sting and pummel in places but they mostly groove and choogle, while Carney keeps it steady, solid, and simple; there’s hardly a drum fill to be found.
Tracks like “Eagle Birds” and first single “Lo/Hi” recall the sensual boogie of Marc Bolan while the spacy “Walk Across the Water” comes across as Prince fronting El Loco-era ZZ Top. Indeed, much of the sonic textures on Let’s Rock are rooted in the 1970s with a toe in the early ’80s and a nod to the garage rock/pop of the mid-’60s, such as the Donovan-meets-the-Allman-Brothers sunny charm of “Sit Around and Miss You.” Check out the moody, bluesy beauty that is “Tell Me Lies” or what may be the album’s biggest dance-floor smash, “Get Yourself Together” which is screaming for a Nancy Sinatra-like video treatment, complete with ladies in go-go boots doing the swim. Or maybe that’s just me.
Let’s Rock is truth in advertising. It’s a love album to the guitar and the groove. It reminds us that while yes, rock and roll can and should have a role in changing the world, there’s no reason why the revolution can’t start on the dance floor.