“We’re gonna reconnect with our blue-collar roots, and we’re gonna rock,” says drummer Pat Carney in the hilarious spoof video for The Black Keys’ single Wild Child. And that’s exactly what the band’s exhilarating eleventh studio album delivers.
Because while their rise from unfancied Akron oddballs to cigar-chomping global stars has seen a dramatic change in their circumstances – chalking up five US Top 10 albums and six Grammys along the way – Dan Auerbach and Carney’s love of the music that shaped them remains undimmed.
Released a day shy of exactly 20 years on from their 2002 debut The Big Come Up, Dropout Boogie finds the pair – 42 and 41 respectively – rediscovering their kinetic musical connection. Recorded at Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound in Nashville and using largely first takes, it puts the emphasis firmly back on the twin pillars of their sound: Carney’s sledgehammer drums and Auerbach’s uniquely expressive voice.
Opener and first single Wild Child sets the tone. Put it down (possibly) to the presence of ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, who was there throughout recording, but it’s the Keys back to their very best. An electrifying blast of 70s funk-rock imbued with the freewheeling spirit of the Edgar Winter Group’s Free Ride, it allies Auerbach’s cryptic lyric about the social media-induced generation gap (‘I’m just a stranger, with a twisted smile’) with a chorus destined to light up festivals worldwide.
Swaggering glam-boogie Your Team Is Looking Good also benefits from Gibbons’s contribution, all hypnotic fuzztone riffs and fizzing cymbals, while a sultry Good Love ends with a solo so hot you could fry an egg on it – acknowledged at the track’s close by Auerbach’s exclamation: “Woo!”
While it’s the most committed they’ve sounded since 2011’s El Camino, the second half of the album applies the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Applying the backwoods feel of 2021’s Delta Kream to their own material, it’s a master class in light-and-shade dynamics.
Happiness is as swampy as the bayou, Auerbach’s vocals drenched in Lennonesque reverb, while Baby I’m Coming Home is stadium-shaking blues worthy of Led Zeppelin in their pomp. If the quality levels dip (slightly) on blues shuffle Burn The Damn Thing Down, you can put it down to the organic nature of their on-the-hoof approach. Rock’n’roll in 2022 doesn’t get any better than this.