The Black Keys are no stranger to the alt-rock scene. For more than 20 years, their gritty, blues-inspired sound has rocked the airwaves with hits like “Tighten Up” and “Lonely Boy.” With the release of “Dropout Boogie” on May 13th, their body of work now spans eleven full albums, many of which were nominated for or won awards.
Their 2021 release, “Delta Kream” took them back to their roots. A set of covers from early in their careers, the album captures the classic blues sound of the Mississippi Delta that inspired members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney in their youths.
While the album was an effective and respectful tribute to this blues tradition, it lacked the energy and variation the Black Keys have ingrained into their sound over the decades. “Dropout Boogie” reintroduces these elements with all the vitality and spirit for which the band has come to be known. Their artistic roots shine through brilliantly, with each tune recalling their previous music without sounding uninspired.
This energy is evident from the first beat of the album. The debut single, “Wild Child,” opens with a strong but simple guitar and bass riff forming the harmonic foundation of the song, with Auerbach laying down a driving rock backbeat on the drums. Although the two-chord tune is rather simple, Carney and Auerbach’s drum and guitar fills never let the song stagnate.
“It Ain’t Over” presents the listener with an ascending bassline before Auerbach’s distortion-laden voice enters. This tune compares the risks of love to the risks of gambling, calling each a losing game.
The duo’s roots are strikingly present on “For the Love of Money,” which begins with a rock shuffle and a bluesy riff reminiscent not only of southern blues, but also of the Black Keys’ earlier music. It carries an eerie similarity to “Get Yourself Together” from their 2019 release “Let’s Rock!”
Continuing the exploration of the blues is “Your Team Is Looking Good.” Following a more traditional melodic structure, this tune repeats its phrases for effect and only features four distinct lyrics. On paper, this may sound boring, but The Black Keys bring enough energy to their performance that they don’t require anything more.
Taking a radical turn away from this sound, “How Long” lowers the intensity, with Auerbach’s voice taking on a smoother, legato quality, while Carney creates a washy texture on the cymbals.
The Black Keys don’t often feature these slower jams in their work. While they typically represent a departure from the prevalent sound of an album, these songs prove that the band’s consistency is not by necessity. Notable examples include “Walk Across the Water” from “Let’s Rock!” and “Everlasting Light” from the 2010 album “Brothers.”
As the only song on this album to use a blues harmonic structure, “Baby I’m Coming Home” provides the most textural variation. The verse and chorus feature distinctly different harmonies and rhythms, which isn’t always the case with the Black Keys, and the song slips into double time for a section two-thirds of the way through. The song is dedicated to Auerbach’s daughter, Sadie, and talks about the long stretches away from home that plague touring musicians.
Overall, fans should not worry that the Black Keys have lost their spark, even though their last album moved away from their signature stylings. “Dropout Boogie” serves as a reminder of the forceful, sandpaper-smooth sound they’ve been honing in their years together and returns The Black Keys to a place of consistency.