The Black Keys - El Camino Review

It’s kind of like the songs are there but the album isn’t, but for a reliable collection of retro sounding garage rock pomp and stomp; why the hell not?

rating: 3.5

Many might be mistaken for thinking El Camino is the second album by The Black Keys, the follow up to the massive Brothers, but mistaken they would be; that was no debut and this is no sophomore effort. Despite what the seemingly sudden explosion of lead single Tighten Up and that album might€™ve conveyed, this was no overnight success. This duo now in their tenth year had been slow burning their fuse to the top for that explosion last year, with growing critical acclaim, fan base and media usage of the tracks, they€™d put in the hours. Coming little over a year since that seismic release, the band are clearly looking to keep that bang up in the air, and not let the dust settle. To strike while the iron€™s explosive. Other hyperbole. Though The Black Keys, or Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, have always been a prolific pair. This being the band€™s seventh studio album. One might think then that the twosome may go down the route of catering to the in crowd with this album. To keep themselves on top or to take them higher, with a tweaking of sound to further mass appeal and radio friendly unit shifters. Sure the production is better and they€™ve cleaned their sound up since the early days of blues heavy garage rock, but that€™s just progression and the ability to afford that production; this is just another Black Keys record, and as they€™d like it. So what do we get with another Black Keys record? Well, what we get is a sexy, fuzzy, scuzzy, soulful and grooveful garage rock album. Exactly what we may well have come to expect from the pair. Though, whilst they haven€™t suddenly gone pop, this is definitely an album of their newer found fame and more widespread success; an album by rockstars. This album carries itself with a very prominent cocksure swagger, and it€™s sexy. Sure the lyrics may be inclined to heartache and lost love in places, but there€™s a whole lot of lust and yearning alongside that, and musically for the most part, this album struts and stomps its way around you. This isn€™t just bluesy garage rock, it€™s rock and roll. Whilst this is no bad thing the album does seem to be driven by this, and it can leave it coming across, on the whole, a little one dimensional. Seemingly the bands more soulful and sorrowful side almost entirely brushed under the carpet of sex. Though when it€™s let out, it makes sure you know it, as displayed on album highlight Little Black Submarine. Starting off with a mournful acoustic guitar and an as impressive as ever vocal from Auerbach, coming on like a McCartney track from later period Beatles when he€™d crack out an acoustic and some finger picking; Yesterday with more blues and soul. Slowly percussion and organ is layered in and as the track reaches its half way mark it seems to end, only for the electric, the fuzz and the full kit to kick in. Big, passionate and powerful, it€™s a dramatic final half; big drums, big guitars, solos and the vocals carrying their message right through to you; €˜Everybody knows that a broken heart is blind.€™ The softer side is there but it€™s a bit hidden, the bluesier and more soulful tracks being the album€™s curtain calls with the likes of Hell of a Season, Stop Stop, Nova Baby and Mind Eraser. Though they€™re held back there€™s some solid moments in them; Stop Stop with its Motown gone garage sound and melodic guitar breaks being a particular highlight, for the album too. Dead and Gone being another such track, and the only one to sneak out earlier in the album coming in at number two and filled with haunting vocals and backing vocals, and chiming atmosphere. Lead single Lonely Boy is a good display of the albums main intentions, though it holds back on the sleazier side of things going for a more heartfelt yearning, and a clear single; big riffs , big hooks and big chorus vocals, it€™s not the album€™s strongest. Where some of the album€™s real strength and highlights come from are those really fuzzy rock n roll tracks, all swagger and wanton sexual activity. First example being Gold on the Ceiling which comes galloping at you like a dirtier and guitar heavier T Rex, with added Moog/fuzzy organ hooks. The album€™s centrepiece is a veritable trio of sexually charged sounding rock n roll. Money Maker starts proceedings somewhere between driving music and a stripper€™s song, the vocals are all yearning, the guitar€™s fuzz and the drums strut. Next up is Run Right Back, which is a track that lives right up to its name, you can feel it running €˜right back to her€™ and the guitar shines through varying between lusty riffs and pained cries. Sister finishes off the threesome with a sound somewhere between disco and The Doors, though you can picture Mick Jagger peacocking to it. The album has a kind of confusing feel, as a whole it seems to blend together in a seemingly one dimensional way, but when you pick you out individual tracks there are some great songs. There€™s driven development alongside half hearted same old same old. It€™s kind of like the songs are there but the album isn€™t, but for a reliable collection of retro sounding garage rock pomp and stomp; why the hell not? The Black Keys new album El Camino is due for release December 5th.
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Life's last protagonist. Wannabe writer. Mediocre Musician. Over-Thinker. Medicine Cabinet. @morganrabbits