The Black Keys conquer genres, again, on 'El Camino'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney, the guitar-and-drums duo that make up the Black Keys, have taken another step in their musical evolution, delivering an album that’s stunning for its sheer musicality as it is for its catchiness. It’s an incredible piece of work, and it might well be the best record of the year.
That paragraph could have been written for any one of their records since their second in 2003. But this, El Camino, is their eighth, not including Auerbach’s fantastic solo Keep It Hid or the BlakRoc record. They’re recording career is only nine years old.
But here we are, in 2011, and the Black Keys, in their 1970s-style recording habit, have pumped out another collection in El Camino that works as a reminder that, right now, this band is without peers.
What’s here is a program that rolls from front to back, the only pause the slow, emotional pull of “Little Black Submarines” that, fear not, explodes into a heavy blues roar, the entire journey worthy of living with the best music Traffic ever recorded.
And that’s the crux of this record. Where the previous Brothers was the Black Keys’ updated ode to the best of R&B, El Camino is their version of the classic rock that would’ve once pumped out of a wood-paneled van in a high school parking lot. And like their rhythm and blues music, their riffs and lyrics never feel wooden or cheesy. This record plays like the best compilation of the 1970s that’s ever been recorded, filtered through a reverb-heavy amp and spit out in 2011.
It’s in keeping with their growth as a band, transitioning from hardcore blues recorded in basements into a more mature sound that’s kept Junior Kimbrough in the roots while pushing forward. On this record, they’ve made a natural step that it seemed as though they’ve avoided for a few years now — straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll.
Hearing these two tackle such a tried and true musical structure is nothing short of a thrill. Through their detours into R&B with Latin twinges in recent years, they’ve stocked up their chops and riffs, and these songs just tumble out with a groove that can’t be faked.
On this record, there are the inevitable big singles, songs like “Lonely Boy” and “Run Right Back” that serve as the karmic opposite to the Top 40 nonsense that’s typically wrapped with the dreaded “hook” label. Catchy music can move beyond the banal, and the Black Keys prove it again here.
But real rock ‘n’ roll works beyond the singles, and what makes El Camino are the songs that aren’t obvious choices for hockey games and weddings. The heavy stomp of “Money Maker” is enough to make even the most casual listener stop and give notice. “Dead and Gone” keeps the thrill of “Lonely Boy” moving on the album. And “Mind Eraser” blows the whole thing out in an old-fashioned freakout. Even when it ends, it never ends.
It’s a testament to creativity, talent and craft, elements that seem to come naturally to Carney and Auerbach. The deeper the listener dives into this music, the harder it becomes to walk away from it. “It.” The magical “it” that talent scouts spend their lives trying to find, scouring the country and forcing what might be there down the throats of the public.
With the Black Keys, nothing is forced. Talent, genius, humor, taste, whatever “it” is, Carney and Auerbach have got it in spades, and it flows.
So stop. You haven’t heard this one before. Turn it up, and get ready to dance.
E-mail Nick Tavares at email@example.com