By Al Kaufman
It surprises nobody anymore that a couple of white boys from Akron, Ohio (Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, to be precise) can pack their music with so much blues and soul, but the fact that with El Camino, their seventh album, they continue to get better and better at it is a feat that deserves great praise.
El Camino opens with the first single, “Lonely Boy.” Like the car for which the album is named, the song is big and bad-assed. It throttles down the road spewing out exhaust for anyone who wishes to breathe it in. Auerbach tears out some T-Rex-like guitar riffs while Carney burns through sticks on his snare. Nothing else on the CD achieves the sheer firepower of this no holds barred opening number, but more than enough come close.
There are heavy guitars a-plenty on here, but they show a more soulful side on “Dead and Gone,” and even lightly tread into southern rock territory on “Gold on the Ceiling.” “Little Black Submarine” shows a little bit of everything. It begins like a quiet Led Zeppelin ballad before it abruptly switches into another guitar heavy assault. And when Auerbach repeatedly screams “A broken heart is blind,” the words transcend traditional rock cliche and feel more like a religious experience. Welcome to the world of the Black Keys. It’s pedal to the metal blues-rock, but with a soulful spirituality. These guys aren’t just boys with bravado; they’ve got depth.
El Camino was produced by Danger Mouse, who collaborated with them on “Tighten Up,” the breakout single from their last album, Brothers. The formula worked so well that they decided to try it for a full length. It was a smart idea. While some cuts, such as “Stop Stop,” sound like they could be Gnarls Barkley songs (Danger Mouse’s project with Cee-Lo Greene), everything on here sizzles and pops. It’s 40 minutes of a V-8 engine hauling down a country road. And when you’re done, you’ll just want to catch your breath, wipe off the dust, and ride all over again.