The Black Keys - El Camino - Review

Warner Bros. Records

By: Alex Young

After two studio albums that were endlessly polished by producers, appearances on late night talk shows and headlining international festivals, the Black Keys have returned to their roots. After winning numerous Grammys this year and selling out dates on their headlining stadium tour across North America, the band created an album that sounds like it was born in a garage and shoved into the spotlight. “El Camino” is a fitting curveball to silence cynics and baffle critics, as well as a triumphant return to form that will leave fans cheering from the opening jukebox blues of “Lonely Boy”.

After the illustrious production value that went into 2008’s “Attack + Release” as well as 2010’s “Brothers”, there were rumblings among fans and critics that thought the band had “sold out”. “El Camino” is an ace in the hole for fans that were waiting for another shot of greasy grooves and ballistic beats heard on 2004’s “Rubber Factory”. The album goes off like a crate of dynamite from front to back with energy to spare, and contains some choice cuts that are bound to make interesting additions to the band’s live set. “Gold on the Ceiling” sounds like a throwback to Curtis Mayfield or the days of Stax Records with its unyieldingly soulful background vocals up against Dan Auerbach’s wailing wall of guitar solos. There are some subtle songs that are still gripping without any grungy distortion, like the intro “Little Black Submarines” while Auerbach sings “A broken heart is blind”. The tight beat and grinding guitar riffs of “Sister” carries mojo that’s dirty enough for the boys and groovy enough for the girls.

There’s no mystery why The Black Keys have garnered such a massive audience in an age when everything coming across the radio waves sounds robotic and synthetic. The band has found a way to make organic and dirty rock n’ roll sound human by remaining analogue dudes in a digital world. If you’re going to slug back some beers and shake your hips or hit the road and let loose, let “El Camino” be the soundtrack to some nights you might not remember by a band you’ll never forget.