Making The Right Mistakes

By Paul Rigg

It was something of a concern to all lovers of the six string – and rock music in general -when, following the release of Brothers (2011) Dan Auerbach told Rolling Stone magazine that “guitar bores the shit out of me most of the time.”    

Scroll forward to 2019 however and The Black Keys’ ninth album Let's Rock (28 June, 2019; Nonesuch Records) is "a homage to the electric guitar" according to drummer Patrick Carney, because of its focus on ‘riff-centric jams’.


The inspiration for the album's title came from the final words of the murderer Edmund Zagorski just before the switch was thrown on his electric chair, on 1 November 2018. Asked by the prison guard whether he had any final words to say, Zagorski simply replied "Let's rock!"  Whether you think it is bad taste to choose an album title from this moment or an appropriate use of gallows humour is a personal decision, but the message that the Ohioan duo want to send is clear: that the spirit of Rock n Roll is alive and kicking! 

The album has already spawned the singles Lo/Hi, Eagle Birds, and Go, but as a whole has split critics. The naysayers say that the album is all surface and nothing more than ‘a smart business move,’ with several of the tracks sounding too similar to previous songs, such as Go, which sounds reminiscent of the massive hit Lonely Boy. 


However I’m not sure that the band and their fans really care because The Black Keys rough and ready ‘back to basics’ approach has produced an album full of rocking numbers and the feeling of fun, something that Auberbach clearly needed when five years ago he said he had become ‘so alienated from my job that I can play to a huge crowd without thinking about what I am doing’. Now the approach is more visceral: “We’re never looking for perfection,” he recently said at his Nashville-based Easy Eye Sound Studio. “It’s all about how it feels. We love mistakes — the right mistakes. They can make all the difference.”

In fact Auerbach and Carney seem to have revelled in doing their own thing and managing their own mistakes, as the only people they seem to have collaborated with on the entire record are the backing vocalists Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson.

The album kicks off by sending a clear message of intent with Shine a Light, with its big riffs and throbbing chords.
This is followed by Eagle Birds, which contains a cool drum beat, and then some dirty guitar on the standout track Lo/Hi, which seems destined to be sung along to on any accompanying stadium tour.You get low like a valley, then high like a bird in the sky,” Auerbach sings; okay, the lyrics on this album are not going to win this year’s Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre competition but nor do the band want to, they want to produce a sound that is feisty and threatening - and they achieve it. 


Tell Me Lies
contains lovely melodic harmonies and some punchy production, while Go, one suspects, is very likely to become another fan favourite. On the video for this latter song Auerbach seems to be playing his favoured hollowed out Harmony H78 with three punchy pickups splashed across it.

With Let’s Rock, The Black Keys have again staked their claim as being one of the world’s leading
guitar-centered rock bands. “I think that rock ’n’ roll or alternative rock or truly indie rock, whatever you want to call it, I think that there’s going to be another big wave of it soon. It resonates with people,” Carney says.