By DAN MACINTOSH
The term “simple” too often gets a bad rap. Saying someone is simple, for example, is one relatively polite way of suggesting another person is mentally challenged. Similarly, there are those among us that despise what they call simple music. These same people mostly listen to progressive rock and math rock. In other words, complicated sounds. Some of this “sophisticated” music will give you ankle cramps if you ever attempt to tap your feet to it (Please don’t try this at home).
Simply put, exploring these ‘enlightened’ sounds can be dangerous. One assumes many of these same progressive/math rock aficionados most certainly dislike The Black Keys. The group’s very name alone is reductionist, focusing on only 36 of a piano’s 88 keys. However, The Black Keys create relatively simply music, and this is a compliment, progressives be damned!
Let’s be clear, though, Let’s Rock – although not annoyingly complex — is still more complicated than The Black Keys earliest sounds, which were built around little more than Patrick Carney’s drumming and Dan Auerbach’s guitar work. “Tell Me Lies,” for instance, shares a song title as well as a few aural elements with the group Fleetwood Mac, a band that’s given the world some of the most densely layered and wonderfully intricate adult pop music.
“Lo/Hi” is more representative of what we’ve come to expect from The Black Keys. It’s built around a guitar riff Auerbach partially borrowed from Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” and embellishes this basic groove rock song with a weedy electric guitar solo and gospel-choir-ly backing vocals. There are no especially jazz-influenced guitar chords, or sudden changes in key or tempo within earshot. Instead, it’s like a big old rumbling truck that, that once it gets rolling, nobody can (or wants to) stop it.
There is also some mellow beauty running through Let’s Rock. “Walk Across The Water,” for instance, is as easygoing as a lazy Saturday afternoon. Its words of devotion also saturate the track in natural sweetness. The video for “Sit Around And Miss You” finds the duo dancing about like two aging 70s hippies. The visual fits because this song has a distinctly soft rock, Stealer’s Wheel (“Stuck in the Middle with You”) overall lightness.
Whether mellowing out or riff-rocking (as with “Under The Gun”), The Black Keys make its motto of ‘let’s rock’ sound easy and natural. Eschewing the urge to create beats and rhymes – which is the pop music chart formula — The Black Keys create rock n roll that sounds organic and obvious – in the best sense of these terms. If somebody yells, “Let’s rock!” and you need to think about it for more than a minute, you’re just not doing it right. The Black Keys rock out nicely and seemingly spontaneously, as though they were born for it.