The Black Keys: El Camino [Nonesuch Records]
The Black Keys seem to be filling the void left by The White Stripes’ self-imposed demise. That’s hardly an original observation but El Camino is hardly an original album. It’s garage rock blues by numbers. But – originality be damned – it’s also immediately likeable.
Sure, its dumb lyrics won’t win any songwriting awards any time soon with most of the Ohio band’s concerns revolving around girls and broken hearts. Sometimes that’s all you need. Mid-album chugger Money Maker, for example, has a nameless female money maker using her (unshaken on this occasion) wiles to get “milk”, “honey” and “filthy money”. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Blazing away with lead single Lonely Boy, El Camino – like its late ’50s/early ’60s car namesake – shakes, rattles and rolls without any concessions to modernity.
This is album number eight for The Black Keys and massive mainstream success beckons. Triple M, the litmus test for commercial rock success whether you like it or not, have been raving about the band in recent weeks.
Black Keys duo, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, have honed their blues raucous to deliver streamlined pounding drummed, low down and dirty – albeit glammed up and not too low down and dirty – guitar rawk. Gold On The Ceiling channels Queens of the Stone Age which is never a bad thing. Likewise Run Right Back. Little Black Submarines is the closest El Camino gets to a ballad. Dead And Gone surfs the pop-rock sensibility that’s going to appeal to millions. As does Nova Baby. It may even get airplay on Nova. Baby.
Some longtime Black Keys fans are predictably making “sell out” accusations echoing attacks on Kings of Leon when they ultimately crossed over to the masses. It always seems churlish to demand bands you’ve previously liked don’t have commercial success. There will always be the earlier albums to play and the bragging about preferring “their early stuff” as consolation.
Criticisms? Yeah, there’s a couple. There’s little subtlety and the slick production by uber-producer Danger Mouse (AKA Brian Burton) makes songs’ sonic assault sound great on the radio and in small doses but a tad one-dimensional over the course of a full 40-minute album (see also: Mark Ronson) and – even after just a few listens – there lingers the suspicion that this – like Jet’s debut album – could be a short-lived rock ‘n’ roll pleasure that quickly overstays its welcome.
But for now, El Camino is young, dumb and full of fun.
earworms: Lonely Boy, Gold On The Ceiling, Nova Baby