On their roots-nodding 2021 covers album Delta Kream, the Black Keys pretty much forgot the previous decade ever happened and returned to the place they started.

Breakthrough records Brothers (2010), El Camino (2011) and the No. 1 Turn Blue (2014) undoubtedly lit a creative spark beyond the appealingly primitive, two-man setup heard on early blues-rock garage LPs like Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory. But revisiting the songs of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough on Delta Kream must have spurred Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney to go back to their basics for their 11th album.

Dropout Boogie was supposed to be a return to the guitar-drums-vocal duo lineup that hasn't been used in full since 2006's Magic Potion, but the Black Keys ended up recruiting outside musicians again. So it's not a true callback to their scrappy formative days, but without producer Danger Mouse's bells and whistles or the halfway-there approach of 2019's 'Let's Rock', it's the closest they've gotten in years to the garage-meets-the-plantation spirit of their earliest works.

It's also the closest they've come to incorporating throwback soul into their music – no doubt aided by Auerbach's outside production work over the past decade, which has included two authentically retro-R&B records by Yola. The funky swagger of the opening song "Wild Child" and the following track "It Ain't Over" zips along with less effort than anything in their recent catalog, and the new collaborators – including ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons – help give Dropout Boogie a fuller sound without the occasional clutter the Danger Mouse records often leaned toward.

'Let's Rock'was a statement of purpose as much as it was a hopeful promise as the Black Keys approached their third decade, but Dropout Boogie is the more immediate album, even when it tends to sag a bit in the middle. (Several songs are heard in their first takes.) The grooves sure come easier: The slinky "For the Love of Money" and fuzzed-out guitar workout "Baby I'm Coming Home," while familiar-sounding like many Black Keys songs happen to be, are rarely grounded by their riffs, freed to explore spaces in between. Brothers remains Auerbach and Carney's shining moment, but this brief blast (34 minutes!) recalls a time before that pivotal record, when instinct took precedent over aspiration.

Black Keys Albums Ranked

From lo-fi 8-track recordings to multiplatinum hits, a roundup of every studio LP by the blues-rock duo. 

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