How were The Black Keys supposed to follow up an album as great as 2010’s Brothers?
By making an even better one, that’s how.
El Camino, the seventh proper studio album by guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and bifocaled drummer Patrick Carney, is luckily not Brothers Part Two.
Instead, it’s a more eclectic album of foot-stomping rhythms and the duo’s customary infectious melodies. Whereas Brothers tended to incorporate more of a blues style with songs like She’s Long Gone, Sinister Kid and The Go Getter, El Camino weaves in a bit of soul, even implementing more keyboards and bass, two elements that really ramp up the duo’s usual simplistic approach. They may be white dudes from Ohio, but they know how to get down.
Lonely Boy, the ridiculously great album opener that you’ve probably heard tens of times by now, kicks things off with one of the most danceable beats they’ve ever unleashed on the world. The music video for the song is suitably perfect, as well:
The beginning, or appetizer portion of the album, is just deadly: Dead and Gone is driven by its bass line and Carney’s relentless drums, while Gold on the Ceiling, with its handclaps, keys, and Auerbach’s old-timey vocals, should easily be the Tighten Up of this record. They played it on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, so it’s probably destined to be an FM radio staple soon, and rightly so.
It’s followed by Little Black Submarines, a tune that starts out with an acoustic, Stairway-esque passage that leads into the inevitable crush of electric guitar and drums. Still, the way the song nods to some older classic rock numbers gives it a timeless feel that ranks among the most expertly-crafted songs these guys have ever released.
Money Maker, Run Right Back and Sister join forces to be a delicious middle portion of this three-course meal of grit and groove, with Run Right Back specifically one of the record’s highest points – from the main riff to Auerbach’s top-notch croon, it’s aces. The same can be said for Sister, a song that relies on the keyboard as much as it does some smartly layered vocals.
Hell of a Season, the first of the album’s four-song sundae of show-stopping fun continues the energy, while Stop Stop takes things even further into the promised land: it deserves to be in some 1960s-themed car chase scene between a team of sassy female bank robbers and some old curmudgeon-y police detectives. Tarantino, are you listening?
Nova Baby and Mind Eraser close out the bodacious slab of excellence that is El Camino, the former boasting a relentlessly catchy vocal hook and the album-closer ending things on a typically bluesy, percussion-heavy exclamation point. It would make a great set closer for the duo’s upcoming arena tour.
With this record, the Black Keys have definitely made a statement; they’ve always been a prolific band, but with El Camino they’re showing that they definitely deserved all the attention that was thrown at Brothers. That album gave them the chance to finally make the jump from “indie favorites” to “headlining Madison Square Garden” status, but judging by the sounds on this record, they didn’t let that newfound attention take with it their ability to make some damn fine music.
Congrats, dudes, you’ve managed to out-do yourselves, which I didn’t think was possible.