A Totally Biased Album Review: The Black Keys Take Us On a Ride in Their “El Camino”

After telling our fearless leader, Travis, that I planned on writing a review for The Black Keys’ new album, “El Camino”, I decided to take a gander at the other album reviews to see how things are done around these parts. Within seconds, I started to feel ill. I didn’t know whether to laugh, puke, or feel some sort of pity for you folks. I mean, Mac Miller? Wale? BoB? Really? The fuck is wrong with you people?! It seems obvious to me, then, that I have a much bigger job on my hands than to simply write a review. I need to educate. I need to enlighten. So, if you will, take a walk with me as I try to help your lost souls. You’ll thank me later.

Those men, motherfuckers, are GENIUS

The Black Keys, comprised of drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach, are back with their 7th studio album, “El Camino”, just 20 months after releasing their breakout hit, “Brothers”. The name El Camino, translated as “the path” or “the way”, refers to the band’s rise from touring across the country in a ’94 Plymouth Grand Voyager (as pictured on the album’s cover), to a Grammy winning success story. The band, based out of Akron, Ohio, recently relocated to Nashville, somehow found time in between touring for “Brothers”, winning Grammys, and general righteousness to record El Camino in Dan Auerbach’s “Easy Eye” studio.

The boys began their musical career recording the bluesy rocker “The Big Come Up” in Patrick’s basement and never looked back. The boys hopped in the van and relentlessly toured the country, slowly building a fervent fan base through their live shows and songs being featured in commercials (when your songs don’t get played on the radio, ya gotta do what ya gotta do). For their next few albums they expanded their sound, added more rock, and kept it real as a simple 2-piece playing raw and in-your-face rock and fucking roll. Then came “Attack and Release”, and with it producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, most notably of Gnarls Barkley fame. After recording Blakroc, a hip-hop collaboration with the likes of RZA, Mos Def, Raekwon, Jim Jones and Q-tip (Ya, you read that right), the group started to expand their sound, culminating in their 2010 release “Brothers”. Departing from their usual blues-rock, they added elements of soul and R&B, displaying a much broader range of influences than Junior Kimbrough or T Model Ford. With Brothers came the breakout hit “Tighten Up” produced by none other than Danger Mouse.

Dan and Pat wasted no time to record their next album, teaming up with Danger Mouse again. That resting on your laurels shit is for the birds.

1. Lonely Boy

The album’s first single, Lonely Boy, fucking rocks. There’s really no other way to put it. Starting out with a face melting, de-tuned riff, this track will get you out of your seat and dancing in no time. Setting the tone for the rest of the record, this song is a fast paced thrill ride. Dan’s voice is soulful, guitar awe-inspiring, and Pat’s drums are a hand clapping masterpiece. Otherwise known as the perfect single.

“Well your momma kept you
but your daddy left you
and I should have done you just the same

2. Dead And Gone

Displaying the band’s shift to a more melodic sound, this song heavily relies upon keyboard, bass, vocal melody, and a gospel chorus, relying less upon guitar. While not the strongest track on El Camino, it still remains utterly listenable.

3. Gold On The Ceiling

Funky, glam rock inspired, foot stomping good time. The opening riff on this track is killer, fading into the background as a melodic keyboard comes into the forefront, setting the stage for one of the stronger vocal performances, and eventually culminating into another gospel sounding chorus. This song is flat out a good time. Rock and Roll at it’s finest.

“Clouds hovered low
Barbred wire fence
Strung up, Strung out
I just can’t go without
I could never drown”

Those men? Yep... Still genius

4. Little Black Submarines

Without a doubt, this song is the highlight of El Camino. Starting out as an acoustic ballad that is nothing short of beautiful, the song switches gears halfway through, exploding into an electric rocker straight out of the 70’s. Epic gets thrown around a lot these days, but if it doesn’t describe this song then I don’t know what does.

“Little black submarines
Operator please
Put me back on the line
Told my girl I’d be back
Operator please
This is wrecking my mind”

5. Money Maker

Enough of the ballads, let’s get back to rock and roll. Another melodic rocker, by now the themes of this album are not hard to extrapolate. As Dan laments about what I can only assume is money making hooker, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t have to start shaking their own money maker to this gem.

6. Run Right Back

As Dan’s guitar literally sounds like it’s weeping, a deep riff comes into play and we’re off and running. Guitar is on full display in this one, and Pat plays the drums fast as hell (another theme). One might even find a Hall and Oates influence, as strange as that sounds. “Ya she’s a special thing/she don’t read much no/but there’s no doubt/she’s written about”.

7. Sister

One of the weaker tracks, “Sister” clearly draws influences from disco. Put this on and you’ll have no choice but to strut your way down the street Travolta-style with this blasting in your headphones. Could this band be anymore original?

8. Hell Of A Season

With a hint of reggae, it turns out they can. If you ever thought The Black Keys were strictly a blues-rock band, you’re in for a rude awakening.

9. Stop Stop

One of my personal favorites. The boys keep true to El Camino’s up-tempo, melodic, rock theme. With a chord progression that would make Keith Richards blush, Dan’s voice shows incredible dexterity as he seamlessly transitions from a soulful verse to a falsetto chorus. Get up and dance people!

10. /11. Nova Baby and Mind Eraser

I put these last two songs together because they’re both boring and forgettable. Press skip twice and get back to Lonely Boy. Strangely enough, I could still see both of them being monster hits, just not my cup of tea.

=========================

El Camino will get you out of your seat and moving. If I had one word to describe this album, it would probably be: “fun”. It’s not deep, it’s not overly powerful (with the exception of “Little Black Submarines), it is what it is: A good old fashioned rock album that you’ll keep coming back for time and time again (just make sure your not standing on hardwood, as you’ll likely stomp right through it). The Black Keys have done it again, showing a remarkable ability to completely reinvent themselves while still staying true to their roots. With gospel choruses, keyboard, bass, bells, whistles and even a xylophone (say what?) being heavily featured, Danger Mouse’s impact is felt from the get go. Mac who?

Must haves: Lonely Boy, Gold On The Ceiling, Little Black Submarines, Money Maker, Run Right Back, Stop Stop

El Camino is a CAN'T Miss for rock fans

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