The Black Keys Tap Back Into Early Blues Rock Mode Via ‘Drop Out Boogie’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

In the past two decades, we’ve had at least three individuals raise the profile of Akron, Ohio. Basketball star LeBron James has made the phrase “just a kid from Akron” almost colloquial. The other two “Akron Kids” are the six-time Grammy-winning duo The Black Keys, who by the way, like James, have relocated from the native city to another, in their case Nashville. Their eleventh album, Drop Out Boogie, comes almost exactly a year after 2021’s homage to North Mississippi Hill Country blues, Delta Kream, and one day before the twentieth anniversary of their debut, The Big Come Up.

Sonically, the album retreats to the stripped-down kind of blues rock (in some places) that guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney began to lay down in their Akron basements over twenty years ago.  The use of the term “stripped-down” is a relative one given the success the band has had and that both Auerbach and Carney have enjoyed individually as producers for other artists. Their chemistry, finally honed at this point, allows them to record many of these in just one take. But they take a new step with this record.  Although they previously wrote and co-wrote songs with producer/collaborator Danger Mouse, this is the first time they invited other contributors into the studio to simultaneously work on the writing and recording process together. These collaborators are Billy F Gibbons (ZZ Top), Greg Cartwright (Reigning Sound), and Angelo Petraglia (Kings of Leon). The latter two appear on the rocking opening track and lead single, “Wild Child.”

The duo explores animated, churning neo-soul on “It Ain’t Over,” with several background vocalists on the chorus. “For the Love of Money” carries a similar vibe with falsetto vocals over an underlying blues riff and echo effects as Carney pushes a steady groove. “Your Team Is Looking Good” also builds off an infectious, head-bobbing riff, and repetitive choruses. The first heavy guitar-driven song comes with “Good Love” as Auerbach blazes his way through the stomping rhythm, underpinned by a swirling B3 and a filthy bassline before taking a spiraling flight. 

Carney sets a percussive groove for “How Long?” and one just begins to sense how naturally these riffs and hooks come to them.  Auerbach makes it sound so easy, but the music is proof of this statement – “We didn’t know what we were going to do, but we’d just do it and it would sound cool.” “Burn the Damn Thing Down” is three minutes of blissful guitar rock while “Happiness” begins as a casual jam before taking shape as another signature stomper with elements of that Hill Country sound heard on Delta Kream. It’s easy to envision any one of these tracks performed live as almost all have singalong type choruses and hip-shaking grooves, certainly the case for “Baby, I’m Coming Home,” which has enough fiery guitars sounding off that it suggests Gibbons has strapped on his axe too. The closer, “Didn’t I Love You,” brings blues riffs, guitar distortion, and a rawness, emblematic of the garage-rock that first stamped this enduring band. 

So, the next time you scoff at a couple of teenagers jamming in a basement or a garage, think again. If two boys from Akron can be this successful, it could happen almost anywhere.  

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