The Black Keys Are Back: ‘El Camino’ Puts the Glam Back In Rock

December 12, 2011

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El Camino

The Black Keys' El Camino.

Put simply, the Black Keys’ El Camino is a solid rock album. Every track stays unique, while the album as a whole is pleasantly cohesive. The current (and only) single, “Lonely Boy,” is truly representative of the album’s sound. And the third time collaboration between the rock duo and producer Danger Mouse is, once again, a success.

El Camino is a nice companion to the Black Keys’ last offering, Brothers, while still remaining distinct from the rest of their seven-album discography. While the band hasn’t abandoned their bluesy past completely, they did refresh their sound in a big way. The new album feels glamorous and grand (but not alienating to long-time fans) – maybe in an effort to put new sparkle on their sound after the breakout success of Brothers.

The band has a new trio of female backup singers, which lends tracks a pop vibe and ups the glam factor throughout El Camino. While you can hear that added dimension on “Lonely Boy,” their best use of the backing vocals comes on “Gold on the Ceiling,” where a bouncy tambourine and swirly guitars round out the reformed Black Keys. Meanwhile, the band’s defining bluesy beats (think the foot-stomping “Howling For You” from their last album) remain wonderfully woven throughout the entire album.

“Little Black Submarines,” another standout, comes right after “Gold,” slowing it down a bit with front man Dan Auerbach crooning: “I should’ve seen it glow / but everybody knows that a broken heart is blind.” By the two-minute mark, though, scratchy guitars and heavy bass interject, bringing the song back around to meet the style of its neighbors on the track list.

“Sister” and “Nova Baby” were mediocre interruptions on the generally strong album – not bad, but with their generic “indie rock” leanings, they might as well have been Broken Bells songs (Danger Mouse’s collab with James Mercer of Shins fame.) But maybe that’s just Mouse’s Grammy-Award-winning touch showing – not necessarily a bad thing.

El Camino is sure to solidify the Black Keys’ standing in the music world and the mainstream media, while their first arena headlining tour hits Boston on March 7.