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.
The success of 2010’s Brothers exposed The Black Keys to a wider audience, and the record features some of their best work to date. Now, hot on that album’s heels is the band’s seventh LP, El Camino. Once again partnering with Danger Mouse, The Black Keys have crafted yet another solid rock ‘n’ roll record that features all the qualities early fans of the band loved from the start (soulful vocals, bluesy guitar riffs, grooving drums) and just enough pop sensibility to reel in those ears who don’t typically stray too far from the Top 40.
The record kicks off with the album’s already-popular lead single, “Lonely Boy.” A reverb-drenched note swells before guitarist Dan Auerbach launches into a crunchy riff that winds down at the end of each musical phrase like a dying machine only to spark back to life again at the beginning of the next one. A driving beat from drummer Patrick Carney drops in followed by a kick-ass high-pitched organ part. A chorus of singers joins Auerbach on the refrain. “Oh, wha-uh oh. / I got a love that keeps me waiting. / I’m a lonely boy.”
The rest of the album follows this same fast and furious model resulting in a collection of pure, unadulterated rock songs. This is a slight change from Brothers which featured several slower, more soulful cuts. The only time on the record when the band pulls back the reins is on “Little Black Submarines,” which opens beautifully with Dan Auerbach’s voice accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. But before too long, the momentum picks back up again. Just as the song seems like it’s coming to a close, the electric guitars and pounding drums roar in with a vengeance. The effect is unexpected and perfect.
Catch your breath here, use the restroom if you need to and grab a snack, because El Camino pulls over at no more rest stops until the record is over. It’s one solid track after another, from the self-deprecating lament of “Run Right Back” (“She’s the worst thing I’ve been addicted to. / I run right back, run right back to her.”) to the groovy “Hell Of A Season” to the clap-stomp revelry of “Stop Stop.”
Even the album closer, “Mind Eraser,” is a blistering track. You might not even see the end coming if you’re not paying close enough attention to the lyrics: “No, don’t let it be over.” The Black Keys must be mind readers as well as mind erasers—mind melters might be a more appropriate description—because by the time the record ends, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself immediately wanting to start over again from the beginning.
El Camino is yet another ear-pleasing installment in the catalog of a consistently impressive band. It’s an album that leaves you breathless and wanting more, but it becomes more fun with each new spin. The only question is: Why does an album called El Camino sport a Chrysler Town & Country on the cover?