December 4th, 2011 | Published in Best New Music
A Vivascene Feature Review by Marin Nelson
Vivascene rating 8.5
The Black Keys return with their perennial voodoo, their musical cross-hatching. The tables may not be upturned and set on fire, but there are some considerable coaster stains, watermarks of brilliance. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were likely anticipating a struggle on their 7th studio album El Camino; the natural slowing down and sobering after a dizzying success (read: three Grammy awards). They responded by sneaking up on themselves:
We didn’t rehearse or do demos and I didn’t write any lyrics; we started that first day from scratch.”
It’s important to know: this is not the B-sides to Brothers. Once the enemy of frail nerves, The Black Keys are still raucously melodic on El Camino, but less discordant with famed producer Danger Mouse at the helm. And no: they haven’t lost their thickfreakness.
By now you’ve probably gotten a taste of the best of the album. First single “Lonely Boy” has taken off thanks to the simplistic lyrics (a la Magic Potion (2006)), rigourous, amp-busting riffs and the perfect amount of vocal accompaniment. This, and “Gold on the Ceiling” are the best tracks to remedy the initial shock of a more pop-y and discernable Keys. “Gold on the Ceiling”, with it’s “Bad to the Bone” licks, is our introduction to the familiar rock influences finding their way into the Keys’ catalogue.
El Camino is the first album where the Key’s sound is directly comparable to classic rock acts – this doesn’t do anything to diminish their already-established vein. Most acts these days have trouble assimilating these genres to their own style, but you won’t find that problem here, especially paired with the Danger Mouse touches, which are very detectable – all the echoey goodness and tinkling triangle accents found in Rome can be found on this subtler side of the Keys – especially in “Dead and Gone”, although Carney’s staccato drumming is a little static by Black Keys standards. And the “Na na, na na”‘s and “whoa-oh-oh”‘s feel like a bit of a cop out. Save it, boys.
“Little Black Submarine” is the album’s stunner, sounding a little early Petty and a bit Zeppelin circa 1971, and “Sister” is an example of their newfound cleanliness. It’s subtle, but conventional – not disappointing, just merely good. While “Run Right Back” sounds like a Neil Young tribute, Auerbach’s silken vocal apathy and charisma returns, where he’s most successful.
Tracks like “Money Maker” and “Stop Stop” maybe aren’t jaw-dropping, just solid songs which follow rock song conventions and have their place on the album.
Do them proud and listen loud – as with most Keys’ songs, they’re best when the amp is rumbling through your nasal cavity. This album only suffers from a few things: too many refrains, too much vocal accompaniment, and the fact that it was preceded by Brothers. El Camino, while not as demanding, is bound to garner the Keys more commercial success. There might come a day when the music comes at that expense, but that, thankfully, isn’t now.
Watch ‘Lonely Boy” one more time and turn it up!