El Camino

The Black Keys

Nonesuch Records

4 out of 5

The Black Keys’ gradual and unpretentious rise to stardom reached its zenith with 2010’s Grammy winning Brothers. They’ve unsurprisingly cashed in on this success by letting their songs be used in a bunch of adverts. However, they’ve managed to retain their musical integrity by not letting the success change their musical direction (ahem, Kings of Leon). TBK are still all about combining hard riffs and soulful melodies to make timeless blues-rock. El Camino, therefore, is testament to their earnestness; they’re still a band who just wanna let the music do the talking, which is fortunate as the lyrics are generally of the hackneyed variety.

The first thing to note is that compared to Brothers, El Camino dials the fuzz back up. While Danger Mouse’s production keeps the album polished, there’s an irresistible hiss throughout the album that keeps this band firmly in the garage and out of the arena. Opener, ‘Lonely Boy’ encapsulates the feeling of the whole album, A track built around a filthy refrain that dips in and out of explosiveness, while the female backing vocals on the chorus keep it soulful. ‘Gold on the Ceiling’ is El Camino’s ‘Tighten Up’; a jangling foot-stomper that can’t help but appeal to any fan of guitar music. ‘Little Black Submarines’ is the only track that really ventures from TBK’ tried and tested formula. It spends two minutes pretending to be a heartfelt lament, complete with the revelation that a ‘broken heart is blind’, before imploding into a cacophony of noise that is reminiscent of the serious hard rock of ‘Thickfreakness.’ While a lack of variety could be a criticism of this album, the strength of the whole thing gives an impression that this is a band who’re confident in what they do and don’t need to flirt with the potential pitfalls of experimentation.

TBK are one of the few bands that’ve managed to find real success and longevity while retaining their hard rock reputation. El Camino isn’t a new standard in rock ‘n’ roll, it’s simply an amalgamation of all the best aspects of rock music. The massive riffs abuse and delight rock sensibilities, the garage intimacy keeps the sound accessible and the bluesy and ariose soulfulness maintains TBK’ endearing appeal. This is a couple of guys having fun at the height of their fame and effortlessly creating refined rock music that’s got something for everyone.

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