The Black Keys have been providing music fans with real-deal rock & roll since their 2002 debut, The Big Come Up. The duo, comprised of vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, put Akron, Ohio on the map with their modern spin on the classic rock sound. Their mainstream breakthrough, Brothers, marked the band’s unyielding success –winning 3 Grammy awards. Their latest effort, El Camino, is already topping ‘Best of 2011’ lists. But where Brothers was more soulful and bluesy, El Camino is roughly 39 minutes of fast-paced, rock & roll.
El Camino’s lead-off single, “Lonely Boy” opens with what sounds like a purring el camino about to take off. It’s 3 minutes of hip-shaking accompanied by soulful “oh oh’s” and the story of a love that keeps singer Dan Auerbach waiting. If the instant, viral success of the track’s video wasn’t enough to keep you tuned in, listening to this song turned all the way up will. The following, “Dead and Gone” is reminiscent of the polished sound of Brothers’ “Tighten Up.” What stands out on both of these tracks is the furious restraint in Patrick Carney’s drumming. It’s hard, but controlled, adding just enough to each song to make it standout on its own.
“Gold on the Ceiling” features a bass/keys riff similar to last year’s “Howlin’ for You.” Auerbach’s slightly muffled vocal provide the track with a garage sound and is bound to be a single. El Camino’s standout track is “Little Black Submarines.” Dare I compare it to Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven?” Maybe I won’t be so bold, but the song structure is there. The slower, acoustic beginning that makes the listener feel that they may be at a Renaissance fair, then slowly the drum kicks in, a soft organ adds climatic effect, and finally Auerbach’s heavy guitar –bringing the song into the 21st century. Clocking in at 4 minutes, it’s also the longest song on the record –but it’s worth listening to every second.
Tracks like “Money Maker,” “Run Right Back,” and “Nova Baby” are nods to the sexy, ‘70s tracks by rock giants like T.Rex and ZZ Top. What the Black Keys and producer Danger Mouse did was glam up what the band was already great at producing –real rock and roll for a society that has “club-ready” dance tracks take over radio waves and television sets. El Camino oozes confidence and sex appeal that wasn’t as apparent in the band’s previous efforts. Right now, this is the right sound for the Black Keys and the glam and polish on their retro, garage rock suits them well. **9.2/10