Release Date: Dec 6, 2011
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Garage Punk, Indie Rock, Punk Blues
The seventh album from the Black Keys reflects the duo's unlikely ascension to Proper Rock Star status, dripping with an easy, attractive confidence. There's still a garage band in there, but – with the assistance of producer Danger Mouse – they stride fearlessly into areas that might once have been off-limits, as with the taut, clipped FM rock of Sisters, or the Glitter Band-via-Goldfrapp stomp of Gold on the Ceiling. Danger Mouse colours in the backgrounds adeptly with dabs of sound – synth here, backing vocals there – though Dan Auerbach's guitars remain everywhere.
Over 10 years and seven albums, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have turned their basement blues project into one of America's mightiest bands. Weaned on Stax 45s and Wu-Tang loops, the Black Keys smeared the lines between blues, rock, R&B and soul, with Auerbach's horny Howlin Wolf yowl bouncing off garage-y slashing and nasty body-rocking grooves. Like that other guitar and drums duo from the Rust Belt, the Akron, Ohio, guys brought raw, riffed-out power back to pop's lexicon.
It’s been a steady rise to the top, but the release of El Camino may finally put the Black Keys in the plush and padded golden throne they’ve been deserving of for the better part of the last decade. As they’ve grown they’ve barely let go of even one fan, and at this point they’ve captured so many ears it’s impossible to ignore them. But why would you want to? Their sound still holds the purity, the grunge, and the heartfelt decadent pounding it did on their first albums, but it’s evolved into a blistering machine that destroys foundations with nearly every note.
You can take the band out of the garage, but you can’t take the garage out of the band. That’s the message behind the Black Keys’ awesomely down-and-dirty seventh album, which caps off a stellar year that found the Ohio blues-rock duo winning three Grammys for their 2010 breakthrough, Brothers, and fielding offers from Robert Plant to play bass for the band. At a time like this, guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney might be forgiven for trading their minimalist sound for something a little more, well, maximum.
The Black Keys may have started out as a straightforward, minimalist blues-rock outfit, but the band has quickly proven it has more than one trick up its sleeve. After filtering their sound through varying degrees of production, from the rough-and-loose attitude of The Big Come Up to the more polished brand of rock ‘n’ roll featured on Magic Potion, the band decided to experiment even further by enlisting the help of acclaimed producer Danger Mouse for their 2008 record Attack & Release. If it wasn’t already apparent that The Black Keys weren’t just cheap White Stripes copycats, the collaboration with the mastermind behind the control panels of some of the best records of the 21st century made it a certainty.
Picking up on the ‘60s soul undercurrent of Brothers, the Black Keys smartly capitalize on their 2010 breakthrough by plunging headfirst into retro-soul on El Camino. Savvy operators that they are, the Black Keys don’t opt for authenticity à la Sharon Jones or Eli “Paperboy” Reed: they bring Danger Mouse back into the fold, the producer adding texture and glitter to the duo’s clean, lean songwriting. Apart from “Little Black Submarines,” an acoustic number that crashes into Zeppelin heaviosity as it reaches its coda, every one of the 11 songs here clocks in under four minutes, adding up to a lean 38-minute rock & roll rush, an album that’s the polar opposite of the Black Keys’ previous collaboration with Danger Mouse, the hazy 2008 platter Attack & Release.
Now that they’ve won a Grammy, had their songs featured in a couple of prominent ad campaigns, and scored a minor radio hit, the Black Keys have graduated to the ranks of those indie-rock acts that critics feel are safe to slag off. While there have been some substantial rumblings of a backlash since the duo’s commercial breakthrough, Brothers, the Black Keys have fired back in the best possible fashion. With El Camino, they’ve come up with a full-on party album that’s both as heavy and as insistently likable as anything they’ve recorded; the album hurtles forward with all the momentum and subtlety of a cannonball, and it’s best either to get on board or just to get the hell out of the way.
The Black Keys' Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach bum rush through El Camino like cats in heat, barely stopping to catch a breath. The high-octane guitar, organ, drums, and even bells and chimes all seem to move together, surging forward in adrenaline-riddled spurts. While the duo has always attributed their rhythmic focus to their mutual love for old hip-hop and R&B, these songs were dipped in pure rock'n'roll.
More than a decade into their career, the Black Keys have unexpectedly become the mainstream torchbearers for purist rock and roll. In 2010, with R&B and hip-hop dominating the pop charts, the duo's breakout Brothers sold a million copies, sent them to Saturday Night Live twice, won them their first three Grammys and propelled them from modest bar shows to full-scale theatres and arenas. That likely brought the weight of expectation to their much-anticipated follow-up, but El Camino doesn't bear the strain of excess pressure.
While the Black Keys may not wield the same bluesy-rock power they threw at us on great early records like Thickfreakness, not much has changed in their musical world. What they've done is trade in unadulterated riff power for a more nuanced retro-pop and classic rock vibe, and if the results have been decidedly mid-tempo since 2008's Attack & Release, they've also been consistently engaging, often charming, and sometimes downright brilliant. It was their last album, Brothers, that finally saw then get some serious attention for their stuff, which is curious because it's also their most wide-open record.
It behooves us to take 90 seconds here and figure out how this band got so popular and enduring. The Black Keys were born in the teeth of the early-aughts "Rock Is Back!" movement, wherein a cadre of uncouth garage-y bands all named The ______s saved us from the terrorists and/or the Backstreet Boys. Eventual result: deserved ignominy (the Vines), undeserved ignominy (the Hives), bewildered near-implosion (the Strokes), and bewildering total implosion (the White Stripes).
In his review of The Black Keys’ sold-out Minneapolis show in support of Brothers, Star Tribune writer Chris Riemenschneider commented, “The set they did play was tight, masterfully executed and had zero filler. Is 85 minutes of perfection better than two hours of varying quality?” El Camino, The Black Keys’ seventh studio album, answers that question with slightly less than 40 minutes of blistering affirmation. With producer Brian Burton’s featherweight, yet telltale, touches, vocalist and guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have polished each track to the high standards of “Tighten Up”.
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.
Nashville, Tennessee, is renowned as the home of country music. And yet this very traditional town has become home to a number of noisy, un-house-trained rock bands of late. Jack White moved his family from Detroit to Nashville some years ago to run Third Man Records; Nashville is where the troubled Kings of Leon call home. More recently, blues-rock duo the Black Keys left their native Ohio to take the waters and record their seventh album there.
The lure of Nashville, Tennessee can be overwhelming for a certain kind of musician seeking a degree of authenticity to provide creative solace. Robert Plant went there and found his muse in Alison Krauss, for 2007’s wonderful Raising Sand. Kings of Leon formed there, Jack White moved there, and of course it’s the home of Country & Western. The latest band of Nashville decampers in search of a bit of honest-to-goodness are The Black Keys, originally of Akron, Ohio.
Technically, the 20 year-old minivan that graces the cover of El Camino isn’t an actual Camino. It’s a Chrysler Town & Country, a far less sexy car with three doors, seven seats and fifteen embarrassing feet of horizontal wood paneling. The Black Keys made good use of those fifteen feet during the band’s earliest tours, when Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney stuffed the backseats full of gear and steered the vehicle around the Midwest in support of The Big Come Up.
Mariachi, C&W, gospel, psych rock, blues and soul dazzlingly mashed together. Mark Beaumont 2011 If you thought the new wave of blues rock first kicked up by The Datsuns in 2002 had buried its dog, bellowed its last and done gone died around the release of The White Stripes’ Icky Thump, Ohio’s The Black Keys are here to keep kicking up that down-home desert dust. Ten years and seven albums down the lonesome lost highway from debut The Big Come Up being (wrongly) lumped in with the dense posse of Jack White wannabes, they’ve torn away from the pack, embraced modernity in the shape of fifth album producer Danger Mouse and the 2009 hip hop project Blakroc, cracked the Billboard top five and sold two million albums.
Is it me, or did the Black Keys’ popularity all but explode in the past two years? For a good long run through most of the century’s first decade, the pride of Akron garnered a sizeable fanbase by pumping out consistently formidable blues-rock, brittle and brash enough to distinguish itself from that other Midwestern blues-rock duo, but not quite idiosyncratic enough to step outside of their candy cane-colored shadow. Then, Danger Mouse jumps on board to produce 2008’s critically acclaimed Attack & Release, and a mere three years later, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are taking home gramophone statues, playing arena gigs, and making two SNL appearances in less than 12 months. Perhaps bringing in half of Gnarls Barkley to produce an album wasn’t as much of a game changer for the Keys as I’m positing, but it’s hard to refute that the band’s current status as a marquee act is a far cry from where we found them in 2003, circa Thickfreakness.
With last year's Brothers, the Black Keys achieved overnight success a decade in the making. Breakthrough hit "Tighten Up" led to more commercial exposure than a season of Mad Men, not to mention appearances on Austin City Limits and Saturday Night Live. Quickie follow-up El Camino essentially offers a full-length extension of that single, with 11 tracks co-written and produced by Brian Burton (Danger Mouse).