Published in February 2012 in the Hindu Metroplus/Sunday Magazine.
The Black Keys – El Camino (2011) – Nonesuch records
There’s no such thing as being too well-established in the music industry, and the Black Keys are proof of that. They have enjoyed a lot of critical success in their decade-long career, but now, it’s time for the wider mainstream commercial market to get a taste of something that they would probably perceive as eccentric. It’s happened with the Kings of Leon, too.
The only difference is, these garage rock revivalists haven’t lost many fans climbing the music charts across the globe ever since 2008’s ‘Attack & Release’ and later, ‘Brothers’ in 2010. With this new album released fairly quickly, ‘El Camino’ is definitely attracting larger audiences and sales. And I don’t say any of this as though it’s a bad thing.
The infectious lead single and album opener ‘Lonely Boy’ has a riff reminiscent of Cake, but only for so long that it can remind you of college rock. “Your momma kept you, but your daddy left you”, guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach moans. His moaning carries on into ‘Dead and Gone’, with a dreamy, soul-inspired tone set to Patrick Carney’s steady stickwork.
There are classic signs of garage rock on ‘El Camino’ like the organ that rings away in ‘Gold on the Ceiling’. ‘60s rock and roll is invoked with ‘Little Black Submarines’. Auerbach’s guitar tones are infused with so much twang and wah effects (‘Money Maker’) that you can’t help being transported to another era.
There is something delightfully grimy and raunchy about garage rock, or whatever it is The Black Keys are making of it. ‘Run Right Back’ has all that in the sound, and in the lyrics: “Finest exterior/She’s so superior, Oh But she won’t allow/and I want it now.”
‘Hell of a Season’ starts out exploiting the same formula of ‘Lonely Boy’, but becomes much softer, albeit with heavy drumming and much guitar noodling. I wouldn’t have understood all the comparisons to the White Stripes if it wasn’t for this song.
In enlisting ace producer Danger Mouse (formerly of Gnarls Barkley), The Black Keys seem to have found themselves in the neo-soul area often on this album with ‘Stop Stop’ being a case in point.
The closing track ‘Mind Eraser’ leaves Auerbach’s distinct refrain of “Don’t let it be over” ring on. But before you know it, you would reach for the play button, restarting the party that is ‘El Camino’ all over again.
Bottom line: Retro-tinged rock with a bit of blues and soul thrown in for good measure.