The Black Keys are not your typical rock stars. It’s no wonder critics have deemed them the Clark Kent and Peter Parker of the rock scene. Dan Auerbach (vocals and guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) may look ordinary from the outside, but once they start to jam, you are suddenly transported into some kind of twisted spaghetti western you’ll want to stay in.

Their seventh album together, El Camino, is the Keys’ much anticipated follow-up to 2010’s Brothers, the album that earned them three Grammy Awards, including Best Alternative Music Album. Suddenly, The Black Keys were the soundtrack of pretty much every movie that came out in 2011 (think The Dilemma and Limitless, among others), as well as at least one beer ad (Molson M features “Tighten Up”). And with El Camino they strike again.

The first single, “Lonely Boy,” is a delicious melange of rock and soul that you won’t be able to get enough of. The lyrics are rather sombre (“So you tore my heart out / And I don’t mind bleeding/ Any old time you keep me waiting”) but an energetic “oh-oh-oh I gotta love that keeps me waiting” propels the song into catchy rock heaven.  Loneliness never sounded so appealing and most importantly, so fun.

The theme of loneliness is persistent throughout El Camino, but it is a celebration rather than a lament. “Lonely Boy” is followed up by “Dead and Gone,” in which Auerbach sings “After every word you say / I’m feeling dead and gone.” It’s a hard-and-heavy piece, softened by the singer’s trademark moan. Patrick Carney’s drumsticks know their way around Auerbach’s beat-up howl and turn a song about a broken heart into a thumping garage anthem.

The album continues on a high with “Gold on the Ceiling,” which begins with that very familiar buzz that you heard on Brothers’ “Howlin’ For You.” The song is part rock, part gospel, and includes back-up female vocals.

“Little Black Submarines” begins as a smoky ballad, which sounds a lot like the stuff Auerbach wrote for his solo album Keep it Hid back in 2009. “A broken heart is blind,” he laments just before the song lifts itself up and Carney once again provides it with solid drums.

 “Run Right Back” is the album’s best showcase of Auerbach’s limber fingers which make every female fan wish she was in his arms instead of that darn lucky guitar. This is further reinforced by the lyrics “She’s the worst thing I’ve been addicted to.” It’s hard not to imagine Auerbach and Carney in a feast of panties and bras flying in the air. The song is a sexy smooth operator, much like the album itself.
El Camino doesn’t have a weak moment, and every song is better than the last one. Dan Auerbach told Rolling Stone recently that “Lonely Boy” was not even the obvious first single, and you’ll be convinced of that once you hear the album yourself.  “Sister” and “Stop Stop,” a sleek dance number that I hope to never see on Glee, but that is very good, are two personal favorites that I definitely wouldn’t mind hearing on the local rock radio station (if such a thing as a “rock radio” still exists).
The album marks The Keys’ third collaboration with Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) since 2008’s Attack & Release.  El Camino is definitely more polished than the band’s pre-Attack & Release records, but they are never far from their roots. Solid guitar and drums dominate the album, with songs about women leaving men and men leaving women being the main theme.  Seventies flair is mixed with rock is mixed with soul is mixed with R&B. The Black Keys truly are the unlikely heroes of the alternative – they are far more powerful than they appear.
Trial tracks: “Lonely Boy,” “Little Black Submarines,” “Run Right Back,” “Sister”
By Radina Papukchieva
Follow me on twitter @Papukchieva

About Radina Papukchieva

Radina Papukchieva came to live in, be consumed by, and love Montreal in 2003 from Bulgaria, with her mother and little sister. She is still a semester away from graduating from Concordia University, where she is doing a double major in journalism and communication and cultural studies, as well as a minor in film studies. Her interests include film, TV, and popular culture. And Woody Allen. She is a film writer for and co-creator of The Cafe Phenomenon. Her list of inspirational people includes Tina Fey, primarily. Among her other interests are music, art, literature, and of course, food. Her film reviews have appeared in The Concordian and The Mirror.

3 responses »

  1. rongreezy says:

    I’m definitely a Black Keys fan! I first got really into them when they came out with Attack & Release…then they had their whole “BlakRoc” project with Dame Dash and a host of hip hop figures, and I was really sold! It’s too bad that there won’t be a follow up to “Blakroc”, but that’s ok, because when they bring out music like El Camino, that makes up for it. Great review!

    • Thanks, Ron! A lot of people diss the Keys for supposedly “selling out” by changing their sound, but I think they just keep getting better and better! It’s refreshing to see someone else agree with me 🙂

      • rongreezy says:

        No problem! I get so tired of the whole idea of “selling out”, to the point where sometimes it gets funny when people make the assertion. It’s as if artists that have chosen music as a career are automatically supposed to take a vow of poverty just so they can supposedly stay true to their art…B.S.!!! Not saying that an artist should take every opportunity to get $ at the expense of themselves and others, but seriously. This is called the music and entertainment BUSINESS for a reason. Long live the Keys. LOL! 🙂

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