Review Summary: "I got a love that keeps me waiting."
The Black Keys indulge in a clever little bit of wordplay on their newest album, juxtaposing the image of a vehicle with the words “El Camino,” simultaneously connecting an album of virile, red-blooded rock with that rugged, high-horsepower Chevrolet pick-up. Of course, El Camino
has nothing to do with the car; the minivan on the cover is the car that Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney originally toured around in, and “El Camino” is simply Spanish for “the road.” It effectively paints their seventh album in two lights: a very pertinent description of the record’s sound and a commentary on how far the Black Keys have come as a band since that minivan. Make no mistake – El Camino
is a victory lap through and through, reveling in the tight rock classicism of its creators and lurching through all the many tales of women scorned and cheers lifted.
After last year’s unexpected critical and commercial smash in Brothers
, the Black Keys could have easily coasted off the returns for a couple years, milked the festival circuit, and just reaped the benefits of finally making it to the top after years of being unfairly lumped in as the White Stripes’ little brothers. Instead, they recruit Danger Mouse, who produced the ubiquitous “Tighten Up,” and kick out another taut set of pop-rock tunes, nearly all of which could stand toe to toe with “Tighten Up” in a quest to give publishing companies worldwide early Christmas presents. Take “Lonely Boy,” whose fuzzed-out guitar lick and romping drums buttress a chorus absolutely primal in its catchiness. Although I prefer the off-kilter rhythm of “Tighten Up,” “Lonely Boy” is, simply put, the Black Keys doing what they were put on Earth to do – turning the amps up to 11 and paying homage to a brand of shi
t-kicking rock ‘n roll that took subtlety to a nice seafood dinner and never called her again. Throughout El Camino
the influences change, but the Black Keys personality dominates. The ‘sunny harmonizing on the ‘60s California rock of “Dead And Gone;” the Cheap Trick-esque power-pop of “Sister;” the fist-pumping cock rock on “Gold On The Ceiling;” it’s still quintessential Black Keys, yet distilled down to a fiery, primitive essence. Workmanlike guitar rock with a melodic punch, featuring lyrics about industrious prostitutes and the joys of being your own man – this is the Black Keys at their core, and it’s both inherently vital and incredibly simple.
It’s shorter than Brothers
, but it’s also almost too
easy to digest in one sitting – the record’s unerring trajectory leads to some monotony at the tail end of things, and it lacks the layers that made Brothers
such a rewarding listen. Even when “Little Black Submarines” promises a breather, with its lovely acoustic campfire vibe and a progression reminiscent of “Stairway to Heaven,” it’s just a fake-out before the massive drum fills and ragged guitar riff railroad any nuance out of the picture. Some might say this is a celebration of the Black Keys’ accomplishments, them throwing a party the only way they know how; others could see it as a disappointment after the adventurous sonic palette of Brothers
and the ambitious, surprisingly potent Blakroc
collaboration from 2009. I’m content to consider it their pat on their own back, a triumph of visceral over cerebral, all drum kicks to the gut and one-fingered salutes with rockabilly chords. Blues, garage, classic – call it what you want, but at its heart the sound remains the same. Is that trebly guitar solo at the end of “Nova Baby” necessary? Hell no, but it sure sounds awesome. El Camino
is the draft beer and greasy burger you stop to get after knocking boots in the backroom of some sawdust-filled dive bar. Down and dirty, it grooves by on soulful power chords and Carney’s relentless hammering of his kit. Have too much, and you might get a little sick of it all. Have just enough, though, and man, is there anything better in the world than the best kind of junk food?