The Black Keys – El Camino
While the vehicle on the cover might be a 1994 Plymouth Grand Voyager, The Black Keys’ seventh studio album El Camino is exactly what the title suggests it to be – a raw powered, all-American, exhilarating ride. The big, shiny sticker on the front sleeve reads ‘Play Loud’, so do as it says, because quite frankly, there isn’t another way to listen to it.
Lonely Boy puts the keys in ignition, and immediately forces the foot through the pedal as Dan Auerbach’s gung-ho guitar draws you to dance like Derrick T. Tuggle. Unless you’ve failed to look out your window since November, then you’ll know this track has turned out the be the band’s biggest hit to date, reaching number two on the Triple J Hottest 100. The reason for its popularity is no simpler reason than it’s such a fun song, instantly gratifying, and one hell of a way to open an album. Gold On The Ceiling is the next rev in the engine, in this hand-clapping, organ-driven, blast of bluesy goodness, featuring some wonderful little guitar solos woven into the end of the chorus. Guitar music is dead? Fuck off.
Just when you thought this was going to be all 100mph, the acoustically lead Little Black Submarines shows the band aren’t all about melting your face off, they can carve sweet songs without the amps, well, half a song anyway. Auerbach suddenly turns the amplifiers to 11 while Patrick Carney jumps to his drums, beating them manically in a moment that’s just good ol’ fashioned garage rock.
The band moves back into 5th gear with Money Maker and Run Right Back. The former a barrage of crashing drums that continues the theme of an opportunistic woman tormenting the author, while the latter opens with a primitive, yet some how original riff, seedily strutting in your ears and poking you with its catchy lyrics, making you both want, and loathe, the cold hearted woman these songs were written about.
Sister sounds like its comes from a different assembly line, with its thumping dance-like beat, it’s almost Brothers-esque, a brilliant slice of pop-rock, and yet there is something still very raw about it which enables it to slot perfectly into this album. Hell Of A Season is of the same ilk as Lonely Boy, a soul-stomping, whiskey-tinged joy ride, that leaves you feeling a little bit more disdain for the stories antagonist.
Stop Stop is Carney’s time to shine again, as he doesn’t miss a beat of his machine gun drumming underneath Auerbach’s smooth, bordering Motown voice. Nova Baby pulls El Camino into the driveway, firing the line ‘all your enemies, smile when you fall’ as a parting shot to the album’s evil temptress. Mind Eraser has you parked in the garage, sitting in the sleek leather chairs, marveling at the ride you’ve just experienced, with the perfectly placed lyrics of ‘don’t let t be over’ ringing in your ears until the albums outro.
Brothers was thought to be the peak for The Black Keys, but with El Camino, the band have made an album that is both rich in entertainment as well as mood, and have pushed a boundary for themselves that could see them driving to the very top of modern day rock and roll.