The Black Keys – El Camino

The Black Keys – El Camino
Nonesuch: 2011

God. Damn. These tracks are catchy. You might have a few reasons to dismiss this band, and subsequently, this review. You might be thinking The Black Keys are old news. They’re too popular. They’ve sold out. Under a veil of popularity, however, this band is fecund with hits and relevant beyond catchy tracks and car commercials. El Camino is a rock ‘n’ roll album built on the foundation of an iconic marriage between guitar, keys and drums.

Like an extension of Brothers, El Camino continues to fill spaces with instrument-bending keys riffs. Many listeners equate this to the fuzz-laced guitar style of Jack White, and so they mistaken them for guitar riffs. It’s equally confusing when the duo hides their keys player on the back of the stage. But what is apparent is that Auerbach has strayed from the Junior Kimbrough-esque guitar style. It’s unlikely that Auerbach could ever lose that bluesy voice, though.

It’s obvious that this album was assembled with watchmaker’s hands by producer Danger Mouse, who also produced the single “Tighten Up” and the album Attack and Release. Oddly, with the grand success of the album Brothers, produced by Mark Neill, he had no hand in El Camino, and so–El Camino lacks that bass-heavy soul. Instead The Black Keys replaces Neill with Danger Mouse and soul with tempo.

This album has one specific raw moment. The track “Little Black Submarines” is a window that Auerbach seems to open momentarily. His acoustic opening is personal and the lyrics carry weight–more so than they often do. This all implodes under the weight of Auerbach’s usual fuzz-laced electric guitar. The entire album seems shadowed by this moment, this song. It’s Led Zeppelin-esque–or is it Rush? Patrick Carney conceived this question during an interview with Pitchfork, noting:

“I don’t know– what’s the difference between Rush and Led Zeppelin, other than the fact that one band is awesome and one is really annoying? Maybe we’re like Led Zeppelin– but maybe we’re Rush. Everything is relative. The worst thing that can happen is for you to think that you’re Led Zeppelin, but it turns out you’re Loverboy.”

There is no evidence that these two are setting themselves up. This album, while purportedly alienating and different, still holds that distinct fashion that only The Black Keys could furnish. Whether or not you’ll hear these tracks in a car commercial before scratching the vinyl yourself is entirely up to them—it’s nothing new. Chess Records may have well been a Cadillac dealership and they produced some of the best soul, blues and rock records in American history.

★★★★☆
4 out of 5

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