Album Review

The Black Keys "El Camino"

Chad W. Lutz
Once a band that regularly played venues the likes of Musica and Northside in Akron, The Black Keys are scheduled to play Quicken Loans Arena in front of 20,000-plus fans on March 20, 2011. While it’s no secret The Black Keys have exploded onto the music scene, some critics wonder if they possess the staying power to make a significant impact on the industry for future generations. It’s also no secret all of us in the Akron-area are pulling for them to do just that. On Tuesday December 6, 2011, the musical duo otherwise known as Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach released their seventh full-length album under The Black Keys namesake. And it’s performances like this that keep the dream alive.

Coming off an album Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes calls: “a perfect balance between juke-joint formalism and modern bangzoom,” El Camino follows up with a similar pop format that becomes monotonous at times but definitely sticks to the bands rusty, rubber roots. The eleven-track LP mixes sounds we’ve heard from the duo throughout the band’s history and the more radio-friendly vibe acquired during the Blakroc sessions. What does it all amount to? An ode to the past with a reverence and foreshadowing of what’s to come from a band that seems to only be picking up speed.

At 37:42, El Camino stands as one of The Black Keys shortest releases. Second only to 2008’s Attack & Release, El Camino still packs as much of a punch and only loses steam for a few tracks toward the middle of the album before picking up steam and charging home through the final numbers. Aside from the already popular “Lonely Boy” (3:13), El Camino also possesses powerhouse gems “Little Black Submarine” (4:11) and “Money Maker” (2:57), which also happen to be the album’s longest and shortest songs, respectively.

The sound for El Camino was hard to pinpoint at first listen. My mind kept telling me, “This is the same album you’ve heard a hundred times before from them!” But that is precisely what remains so great about The Black Keys. No matter what style or sound they play around with, The Black Keys always seem to retain that little something. That sound so distinctive to Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach that you can almost instantly recognize it anywhere; the howling croon of the man with the electric guitar that cries the blues in tandem, the syncopated sharpness and catchy time signatures of the manic R&B-styled percussion. In addition to a further exploration of the more technical pop format we’ve seen the last couple of albums, the only thing new to El Camino was a more ethereal and, at times, spacy use of vocals. However, the effect is about as entertaining as the video to “Lonely Boy.” And if you haven’t seen that yet, I highly recommend you check it out.