Rock n’ roll has always been about style theft.
Think about it. Any great song, concept or musical technique was inspired by someone else in an incremental way. The challenge of creating something “unique” is about taking everything that came before you and adding your own personal flair that wasn’t there before, without becoming redundant.
Enter rock band The Black Keys ninth studio album, “Let’s Rock,” released June 28 on Nonesuch records. In a statement to the media, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney spoke of the album’s concept, calling the record “like an homage to electric guitar.”
Issues with the album start before a track is even played.
The cover art, which has always been almost as important as the songs, themselves, is of a sparking electric chair.
While to some, the cover may seem innocent and even rock n’ roll, but to any heavy metal fan, the album cover is extremely similar to Metallica’s 1984 “Ride the Lightning” cover, which also features a sparking electric chair.
In a recent media interview, Singer Dan Auerbach recalled how the album cover stuck. During early recording sessions, Auerbach caught the story of a death row inmate awaiting execution who’s final words were, “Let’s rock.”
“I just kept coming back to that story,” he said. “The idea of the electric chair and ‘Let’s Rock,’ and we’d just made this rock and roll record. I feel like it was sort of meant to be. We were just handed that.”
It would be one thing to end the similarities between “Let’s Rock” and other artists’ work right there and hail the Black Keys for producing 12 catchy, FM-friendly rockers, but on the track “Walk Across Water,” not just the riff is lifted, but also the melody and some of the lyrics, off T. Rex’s 1972 song, “The Slider.”
In an attempt to keep the listener engaged, the song “Go” is a little more than halfway through the album.
This song, while catchy, is just another throwaway feel good summer jam complete with the warm weather nostalgic lyrics, “In the summertime, streets are bare, no one’s there, leave together, run forever, they gotta go-o-o-o-o.”
Finally, “Fire Walk With Me,” an empowering, yet cliché, song about the strength of fire, closes out the album.
To give merit to Jack White’s claims that the Black Keys robbed his band’s sound, “Fire Walk With Me” ends with a 50-second guitar solo in a tone almost too similar to White’s signature sound.
“Let’s rock,” the Black Keys’ first album in five years, demonstrates the band’s attempts to move away from their more experimental sound of 2014’s “Turn Blue,” while still capitalizing on the momentum they have steadily built since 2010.
Instead, “Let’s Rock,” while having seven or eight solid rock tracks, comes off as repetitive, as the production throughout the album is minimal and frequent blatant references to other band’s songs, makes it a chore to listen to in full.
Perhaps it’s time for the Black Keys to become a singles band.