The Black Keys are finally at the top of their game and getting the recognition they deserve. At first, there was a host of competition in the throwback garage rock scene. With bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes taking the early lead, The Black Keys quietly released records. First came 2002's "The Big Come Up." Then it was 2003's "Thickfreakness" followed "Rubber Factory" in 2004. Dan Auerbach's gritty guitar playing and vocals with just a touch of feedback and slapback delay proved to blend perfectly with Patrick Carney's heavy-handed and even heavier footed drumming. Although they weren't quite selling out arenas or headlining festivals just yet, each of their records was praised by critics.
In 2008, the producer Danger Mouse stepped in and took The Black Keys to new places. Although many critics and fans alike consider the resulting album, "Attack & Release," the worst album The Black Keys have released to date, Danger Mouse's fame after working with the likes of Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley took The Black Keys to the next level. Now it's nearly impossible to watch an hour of television without seeing at least one commercial with a song by The Black Keys in the background.
Generally considered a two-piece band, The Black Keys began to add instruments to their mix on 2010's "Brothers," their most successful album yet.
With nearly an hour of music on the record, Auerbach and Carney brought in organs and bass guitar to fill out their sound. Although they could no longer perform all of their songs live without the aid of a backing band, The Black Keys went on to win three Grammy Awards while being nominated for two more. With other bands in their genre fading away in listeners' memories, The Black Keys are finally on top.
Where many bands would ride the wave of their newfound success as far as it would take them, The Black Keys are looking to rise even higher. "El Camino" pulls together everything that worked on their last two albums and combines them for a fast, fun and fantastic new release.
Danger Mouse is back as a full-time producer on "El Camino" and where he may have fallen a bit short on "Attack & Release," he completely redeems himself here. Thanks to The Black Keys bringing their supporting instruments along for the ride following the success of "Brothers," the added effects in the background created by Danger Mouse are far less distracting and much less present than they were three years ago; in fact they blend right in. The Black Keys' immense popularity likely also kept Danger Mouse from wanting to take too many creative liberties with the band's sound.
Opening with the lead single, "Lonely Boy," "El Camino" feels like a party that is already at its peak. With an accompanying video that features a well-dressed middle-aged man showing off every hip-shaking dance move he has ever learned (including "The Carlton"), it's clear The Black Keys have become absolute professionals when it comes to marketing themselves. They know what sells and they know what their fans love so "El Camino" gives them eleven new favorites to choose from.
"Dead and Gone," with its backing vocals, tremolo guitars and xylophone accents, shows off the Danger Mouse element perfectly. Fresh off a project titled "Rome" with Italian composer Daniele Luppi, Danger Mouse has always been a fan of the Italian western.
Although he doesn't quite transform "Dead and Gone" into another "spaghetti western," there are familiar elements that link "El Camino" to "Rome."
Tracks like "Gold on the Ceiling," "Run Right Back," and "Sister" each keep the good times rolling with a combination of snappy beats and witty lyrics.
In fact, "El Camino" is probably the funniest album by The Black Keys to date. Sure, they've had their clever moments, but with lines like "Well she's such a special thing, she doesn't read too much, but there's no doubt she's written about" it's hard not to come away from this album grinning.
The dark horse in the race to the top of the singles charts on this record is "Little Black Submarines."
As the only song on the record to top four minutes, it takes some time to get going with a two minute acoustic introduction, but as soon as Patrick Carney begins to slam sticks against his drum heads, the track blossoms into a classic Black Keys jam.
"El Camino" is the most fun you'll have listening to a Black Keys album. The songs are relatively short and with the exception of "Little Black Submarines," each one dives head first into a new catchy hook. "Brothers" offered up more diversity than you'll find here, but now that The Black Keys are on top, "El Camino" will ensure they stay there for the time being.
Track Suggestion: "Gold on the Ceiling"
- Original Release Date: December 6, 2011
- Release Date: December 2, 2011
- Label: Nonesuch
- Copyright: ℗© 2011 Nonesuch Records
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- Total Length: 38:23
- ASIN: B006BXTOFC
- Average Customer Review: 767 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,110 Paid in Albums (See Top 100 Paid in Albums)