Everyone, or at least every critic with a serious emotional investment in statements like this, agrees: The Black Keys are the last true rock band left. Though derided by some as Sports Blues and by others as The Band From The TV Commercial For The Taco Bell Late-Night Menu, With The One Girl Who’s Like ‘Now THAT’S spicy,’ the Keys continue to fill arenas and pump out hits with a consistency no other outfit can match. All of which means that the arrival of a new Black Keys record is big news for everyone who cares about the future — and present — of rock and roll music. Here’s a track-by-track look at what’s good and what’s even better on the Black Keys’ new record, Fast Casual.
1. “Free To Choose (Appetizer Meal Deal)” — This song is either about the end of a tumultuous relationship or the new selection of shareable [quesa]’Dilla-style appetizers at Applebee’s, the restaurant chain that’s credited as a co-producer (with Danger Mouse) on four of Fast Casual’s songs.
2. “Some Restrictions Apply” — A brooding number that exemplifies the Black Keys’ recent knack for incorporating brands and advertising-ready slogans into songs about untrustworthy but attractive women, this would’ve fit perfectly on such Black Keys records as We Are Farmers (2010) or Toyotathon Man (2012).
3. “Sunglass Collection” — This slow-burn ballad finds Auerbach in a ruminative mood, as he sings about his highly regarded private collection of vintage and limited-edition sunglasses.
4. “Party Bee” — When this song was first heard in an ad for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fructose Whiskey Coolers, the insipid lyrics — “Oh woman, I’m a party bee/Fly around with sweetened whiskey/Party bee will sting a boob/Party bee delightfully sweetens your favorite cocktails” — drew a chorus of criticism online. The single entered Billboard’s rock charts at number four, though, and became one of the group’s bigger hits.
5. “Male 18-to-35” — Auerbach and Carney are clearly feeling it on this one, and deliver a brash anthem for the nation’s most sought-after demographic. “You’re going to get me what I want, and when,” Auerbach growls, “and I’m still going to make a big deal about it.”
6. “Forget It” — This strutting, blues-y song stands out for being notably less polished in terms of production than other recent efforts — indeed, it would be at home on either of the band’s first two records — Auerbach’s winding guitar figures, and for ending abruptly with a heavy, audible sigh.
7. “Literally Applebee’s” — Hard to say what this stomping number is about.
8. “Ram Tough” — “Making an offer that makes me want to say yes/Hard to say no to those eyes and that dress/Never been a better time to drive one off the lot/Eco-Boost engine humming, woman, these deals are hot.”
9. “See You Tomorrow” — Auerbach rides over Carney’s muscular drumming and Danger Mouse’s whirling keys in this ode to good times with good friends, and the Applebee’s new line of sizzling steak and shrimp entrees. Though it’s been a favorite as part of the Keys’ live set for years, this is its first time appearing on a record.
10. “Akron” (Feat. Akon) — A bit of a stylistic departure for the band, this collaboration with Miami-area producer DJ Khaled and Senegalese-born super-alto Akon sounds like an uptempo club anthem. But listen closer: it’s about the band’s Ohio hometown. The lyrics detail the group’s stubborn affection for a place that’s oddly timeless in ways both good and bad, and still struggling — struggling with the need to grow, to become something other than what it’s been if it’s to survive. In the end, the song is about the dignity of lives lived modestly, if sometimes desperately, and with a sort of weary honor. Also Akon sings something about Monster Energy Drinks in the chorus.