El Camino by The Black Keys

Released: December 6, 2011

The Black Keys | El Camino | Rating: 8/11 |

Can’t say there was a hurry to kick out a review for this album for a few reasons; One, what’s the fucking rush?. Two, the Black Keys are worth more than a 24-hour digestion cycle and three, I was busy chair-dancing to the tunes. 

That’s right dancing ala that uber groovy dude we’ve all come to love in the video for the deeply-felt fun fuzz of “Lonely Boy” (I tweeted this to be damned near a dance album, wasn’t kidding). Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have, for some inexplicable reason, decided to shed the heft, weight, soul, and the dirty sexy sludge of blues minimalism of their predecessors (BrothersAttack & ReleaseThickfreakness) in favor of a sassy, sometimes satirical romp of garage rock, boogie-lite. 

What you’ve come to want/expect from the Black Keys will greatly determine how El Camino sits on your ears, song by song and as a body of work. It isn’t that El Camino isn’t memorable, because the boys (along with Danger Mouse) have put a certain flip and shine (read: lack of rawness) on most tracks, but the immediate crawl into your earhole has been replaced by “growers”. Gone is the loose, open, and soulful sprawl of previous records, in its place is a significant shift in tempo and temperature. Auerbach moans less the despondent, wronged soul brother; instead he coolly shimmies through “Dead and Gone” and “Gold on the Ceiling” with uncomplicated ease, yet handily aided by Carney delightfully banging the shit out of stuff (and good luck to him keeping those beats during the live shows). While sans the off-kilter ambition of Brothers or the carnal white heat of, say, Thickfreakness, here the boys trip through the walls of rock and roll blues with a wealth of catchy gloss-like sunshine with Auerbach’s manly riffs in tow as an anchor; Mr. Mouse supplies the tweaks but Carney and Auerbach do all the heavy lifting. But just when things get all acoustic-y and you feel comfortable enough to hold hands in the first movement of “Little Black Submarines”, the Black Keys open up a noisy and torrid vein to unleash what it is they do best: bash the blues out with emotion (albeit controlled), framing the two moving parts to comprise a whole of dynamic antithesis. 

El Camino itself is also two parts of a whole; homage to all things good and rock and roll pure (Led Zeppelin to the Rolling Stones to R&B, etc.) and the simplification of those elements into a groove-laden, but slightly neutered package. Even the current of reggae slinking through “Hell of a Season” leaves a feeling of being coyly felt up instead of full-on groped. A tasty package that will play well to the masses, yes, but I’m keeping Attack and Release on standby for when I really want the guys to slip a hand up my skirt. What? Too much information?