Review Summary: The Black Keys deliver an album with arena ambition, but with a familiar garage sound
In my fourteen years of existence on this planet, I have never been to a professional concert with a big band on the roster. Numerous times my dad has offered to take me to see Sting or ZZ Top when I was kid, but I was an idiot back then and never accepted the offer. Come to think of it, I'm still an idiot for not jumping at the chance to go to Music Midtown earlier this year to see one of my favorite new bands, Cage The Elephant. Also on the roster was The Joy Formidable and The Black Keys. I originally discounted the Keys because I perceived them as one of those goth bands my friend liked at the time. Their name had "black" in it and meant an off-putting individual after all. Then my friends showed me "Howlin for You" and "Tighten Up" and I, like the rest of the nation, was hooked. Needless to say I bought "El Camino" the second it came out.
The album starts off with "Lonely Boy", a track that for many is the band's selling out point. Personally I like surf guitar and arena-filling chorus, but it may have been to big for the indie crowd these guys played for earlier in their career. Then comes "Dead and Gone", which features hip-hop drums and is notably slower with a more prominent bass-line that seems more at home with "Brothers" then this album. Personally I didn't like it because of just that, but still a good track overall. The album picks up again with "Gold on the Ceiling", which sounds like the depraved offspring of ZZ Top and T. Rex playing at a house party. The track features some neat tricks such as an organ, hand-claps and female backing vocals courtesy of producer Danger Mouse. Then comes my favorite track from the album "Little Black Submarines". The track starts off slow, with Dan hypnotically strumming an acoustic guitar. As per usual the track speaks of love lost as Pat slightly hits the bass drum. The song stops and then the distortion kicks in and we get an explosive performance by all involved. This track probably features some of Pat's best drumming also. We then head back into the garage with "Money Maker", which features some caveman instrumentation and voice box solo; good track. The rest of the album evidently stays in the garage while tweaking the formula time-to-time ("Sister"'s spaghetti western guitar immediately jumps to mind).
Danger Mouse is increasingly starting to look like one of the new decade's best producers and he fits with the band perfectly. Although his obsession with Morricone sound-scapes do tend to take hold a little to often, he manages to control himself for the most part. Some complain that he was invading onto the Black Key's cherished low-fidelity indie sound, but the collaboration was fruitful in the way that it seemed to expand their sound instead of distract from it. All in all, this album is a very hard rocking enjoyable effort that almost never lets you catch your breath. Check it out.