The Black Keys – El Camino (2011)

Simultaneously more sinewy but somehow louder than last year’s Brothers, this forthcoming album doesn’t so much try to follow up the Black Keys’ most acclaimed release as feel around on its outer edges. There’s less blues, and more brawn — something that’s laid out perfectly on the lead single and opening-track “Lonely Boy.”

Whereas Brothers – while deftly balancing both the modern rock and Delta styles that have long obsessed the Black Keys — came off like a chest-bumping celebration of summer, El Camino is this angry shove back against winter. Gassed up and ready to roll, this follow up — from the very first — is on a serious tear.

Even during tracks like “Dead and Gone,” “Sister” and “Hell of a Season,” which find singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach continuing to explore a newly discovered velvety lover-man vocal range, drummer Patrick Carney is a kinetic wonder — creating these shotgun-retort tempos that threaten to shake everything else loose. “Gold on the Ceiling” boasts the gallop of a gravy-dripping Southern rock tune, while the “Money Maker” moves from an angular guitar signature (one that must bring a twinkle to Jimmy Page’s eye) to this squalling, pedal-stomping solo.

A weeping slide hails the beginning of “Run Right Back,” this dusty-booted antique sound that draws perhaps the clearest line back to this duo’s more recent blues-based explorations with returning producer Danger Mouse. Before long, though, “Run Right Back” too becomes another towering paean to the unfettered joy of a window-rattling ostinato, taking its cue from the relentless propulsion of north Mississippi acts like the late Junior Kimbrough.

There’s a similar transformation on “Little Black Submarines,” which begins with a quick exhale of mournful recollection. That initial corn-row gospel feel on “Submarine” is quickly immolated, however, with this fast-paced outburst of nervy guitars, howling vocals and broiling rhythms.

The needle here just vibrates on the right side of the speedometer — from a deliriously inventive reduction of Smokey Robinson’s atmospheric trills, these piercing post-punk riffs and sock-hop beats on the stand-out track “Stop Stop,” to the arena-rock anthem “Nova Baby.” The Black Keys then settle into a rumbling menace for “Mind Eraser,” which closes El Camino with a sparky sense of unfinished business.

That’s actually appropriate since, in the end, this record doesn’t feel like the creative breakthrough that Brothers was, so much as a continuation of its essential experiments. Turned up to 11, that is.

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El Camino, due Dec. 6 from Nonesuch, is available for pre-order through the Black Keys’ Web site. Pre-orders there receive a digital download of the lead single “Lonely Boy.”

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • gao

    i’ll be honest, i’m not a music critic and i don’t have a clue what half the phrases in this review mean, but this album kicks ass.

  • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

    That was, actually, the entirety of my first draft for this review: Kicks ass. Then I fleshed it out a bit.