Black Keys find success again with ‘El Camino’

Jack H. Evans

For a band made up of only two guys, The Black Keys sure know how to make some noise. Their 2010 Grammy-winning album Brothers would be a hard act for any group to follow, but The Keys are back with a vengeance – with all-star producer Danger Mouse at the helm – on their new record El Camino . What made Brothers so massively appealing was the open soul-infused sounds of hit singles like “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ for You.” While The Black Keys, made up of guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney haven’t completely abandoned that sound, El Camino goes back to the band’s hard rock and blues sounds that drew their first fans. Letting influences show is one thing The Black Keys aren’t afraid to do here. From the obvious to the unexpected, El Camino shows influences from acts such as Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, Michael Jackson, modern alternative rock, and even hip-hop. “Sister” is lifted by a My Morning Jacket-meets-Michael Jackson vocal and a funky beat, while “Money Maker” and “Gold on the Ceiling” retain that poppy-soul sound. While those influences are a big deal on this album, The Keys still have a sound that’s undeniably all their own. Auerbach’s fuzzy guitar riffs and distinctive vocals are insanely catchy, especially when backed by Carney’s relentless garage rock drumming. The duo has also brought back a key element of their sound—the keyboards. Keyboard playing by producer Danger Mouse backs the guitar lead in lead single “Lonely Boy,” and the keyboards give “Nova Baby” an almost 60s pop sound. The production on El Camino is notably tight, and it should be. Danger Mouse is renowned for his work with The Gorillaz, Beck, and Sparklehorse, as well as for being a member of Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells. However, a large part of his success has been due to his production on previous Black Keys work, including 2008’s Attack and Release and last year’s single version of “Tighten Up.” The lyrical content on El Camino isn’t really worth noting, but lyrics have never been The Black Keys’ focal point. Rather, the music is totally allowed to take over. “Lonely Boy” fits the definition of “listenable,” while “Little Black Submarines” might be the best song on the album, despite sounding like a mix of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” If there’s any flaw to this album, it’s that it can, at times, be a bit repetitive and has a few filler songs. That shouldn’t stop anyone from listening to El Camino , though, because even though it may not outdo Brothers , it is nonetheless a well put together effort. Overall rating: 8/10