Among all the other nice things, the umpteenth wave of garage rock revival in the early 2000s brought us the dynamic junkyard-rock duo, THE BLACK KEYS, from Ohio. Unless you were born yesterday, I guess it is not humanly possible to not have been exposed to their monster hit, “Lonely Boy,” at some point after its initial release in 2011. In the following 10-or-so years, the band has been on a hiatus, as well as released a good number of studio albums. Their previous effort, “Delta Kream,” released last year, was comprised of country blues covers, most notable of which was the slightly modernized cover of John Lee Hooker‘s version of the vintage blues standard, “Crawling Kingsnake.” Now, the duo is back with a new album full of original songs, titled “Dropout Boogie” and released on May 13th, 2022, via Nonesuch Records. The new selection is the band’s eleventh studio outing and while not every album cut resonates with the instant earworm quality of their biggest radio hits, the prime cuts do live up to the band’s soaring legacy. Inspired by the collaborations on last year’s cover album, this new effort carries the collaborative torch by introducing guest songwriters for the first time. “Dropout Boogie” features the garage punk misfit, Greg Cartwright (OBLIVIANS, REIGNING SOUND), as well as the Nashville hitmaker, Angelo Petraglia (Trisha Yearwood, Taylor Swift, KINGS OF LEON), plus the one-and-only blues-rock legend, Billy Gibbons of ZZ TOP.
The album kicks off by treading a bit cautiously down the well-trodden garage-rock path; setting things in motion with a gritty disco beat, the opening song, “Wild Child,” features the standard bag of tricks of the genre, what with the main riff taking a deep nod towards nu-soul, the chorus resorting to the tried-and-true shout-it-out aesthetics, and the lyrics sketching the same old story about unrequited love. So, basically, the album opener has been crafted with almost the same template as “Lonely Boy,” but here, the new song sounds nowhere near as convincing as their breakthrough hit. That is not to say the song sucks, but the duo has pilfered this safe with a bit more elegance and precision before.
The following track, “It Ain’t Over,” might have worked better as an opener; it is one of the highlights on the album, resonating with the familiar earworm quality of their old hits by throwing in just the right amount of blues and soul. THE BLACK KEYS was one of those bands that practically re-defined the stylistic palette of garage rock back in the day. In this song, they once again play to their strengths rather nicely, as if to remind us what’s what.
Then again, unfortunately, some of the tracks on the album come off as lazy readings of old blues standards filtered through a somewhat 1970s-tinted bubblegum glam-rock lens. I’m looking at the tracks, “Your Team Is Looking Good” and “For the Love of Money,” in particular. The falsetto singing on the latter is pretty sublime, though. The mojo gets back on track by the next album track, “Good Love,” thanks to the thick layer of vintage ZZ TOP vibes, courtesy of Billy Gibbons‘ raw Texan mojo… and speaking of vintage boogie, “Burn the Damn Thing Down” could be a long-lost T.REX jam from the 1970s. If shuffling bluesy riffs aren’t your cup of tea, you’re in for a lousy 3-minute jam.
So, halfway into the album, it becomes pretty clear that THE BLACK KEYS‘ new studio effort is a somewhat hit-and-miss type of thing. Maybe unexpectedly, one of the highlights in the latter half of the selection is the gritty ballad, “How Long.” Despite its slow-crawling tempo, the song has enough punch to make a home run. “Baby I’m Coming From” is another breadwinner, despite its occasional T.REX vibes. Then again, Marc Bolan and his glam-rock buddies had some decent songs too. Finally, the album closer revisits the somewhat ZZ-TOP-esque realm, this time without the help of Mr. Gibbons. “Didn’t I Love You” brings things to a close with nothing short of an authentic blues grit that channels the vibes of those revered, vintage ZZ TOP albums, such as the sublime 1973 outing, “Tres Hombres.”
In conclusion, the album as a whole may not exactly be an “all killer, no filler” deal. Still, it comes with quite a few quality moments – enough to justify its place right next to those previous THE BLACK KEYS studio albums that you have in your CD collection. Let’s face it: if you are one of those blues-traditionalists or neo-soul fan-boys who fell big for bands such as THE WHITE STRIPES, THE HIVES, or THE STROKES some 20 years ago, you are going to like this album, no matter what.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Wild Child
- It Ain’t Over
- For the Love of Money
- Your Team Is Looking Good
- Good Love
- How Long
- Burn the Damn Thing Down
- Baby I’m Coming Home
- Didn’t I Love You
Dan Auerbach – vocals, guitars
Patrick Carney – drums