The Black Keys’ eleventh album is a time capsule contained in ten songs.
For some people, The Black Keys have been the best thing to come out of Ohio since corn. “America’s most trusted band,” according to Stephen Colbert, have returned just before the twentieth anniversary of their first-ever album, The Big Come Up, to release their eleventh: Dropout Boogie. It’s an album that seeks to return to their early days of making blues-rock demos in their basements, while also inviting big-name collaborators to join in for the first time in Black Keys history—from Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top), to Greg Cartwright (Reigning Sound), to Angelo Petraglia (Kings of Leon).
Dropout Boogie shows The Black Keys haven’t lost their classic Midwestern garage/blues-rock sound, with its winding guitarmonies and the Goldilocks-level amount of fuzz around them. Its two leading singles, Wild Child and It Ain’t Over, open the album; the former’s tight percussion and layers of guitar are offset by the latter’s step back into something more subtle; it’s the kind of thing you might hear on an old jukebox in the corner of an all-American diner. Both songs are oddly timeless, like they could have been made in 2002 or 2022 alike—or maybe even 1902, as in the case of cinematic tracks For The Love Of Money and Burn The Damn Thing Down, where Dan Auerbach’s crooning voice somehow gives even arson a certain appeal.
The album often oscillates between strutting down the street (Good Love) to more of a leisurely stroll (How Long), but manages to sound cohesive nonetheless. As Auerbach puts it, “That’s always been the beauty of the thing Pat and I do. It’s instant. We’ve never really had to work at it. Whenever we’d get together, we’d just make music, you know? We didn’t know what we were going to do, but we’d just do it and it would sound cool”. That might explain why the album, while ‘cool’ enough, also sounds a little meandering —much like its frequent, only half-memorable guitar solos. Closing track Didn’t I Love You only cements this; the final song on the album is an appropriate end to the whole project, both of which are the kind of thing that might get your foot tapping, but probably not drive you all the way to a (dropout) boogie.
As Auerbach sings on Your Team Is Looking Good, “Your team is looking good / But not as good as ours,”—and after 21 years of making music together, you can’t really argue with them. Nevertheless, the album is just as safe as it is strong, with not many standout moments. It’s more of a feeling than a fan-favourite, more of a jukebox-in-the-diner hit than an arena-filler—but maybe that’s just part of its stripped-back, basement-blues charm.