El Camino by The Black Keys
The Black Keys do one thing exceedingly well, and just like you don’t go to Waffle House for the sirloin, you should not listen to any of their records for politically insightful lyrics, instrumental virtuosity, or some grand response to pop culture. El Camino, the band's 7th studio release, is just one greasy plate of scattered, covered and smothered rock and roll that has been deep fried in the blues, and one should order up a plate only as a reminder that life (and love) is played out in the trenches.
Lately, the TwitterFace sphere has been abuzz with indignation that The Black Keys (which consists of duo Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney) will embark upon an arena tour to promote El Camino. Indeed, arenas seem ill fitting for a band whose music has always sounded suited for an abandoned factory in a burnt out part of town. The band began in Akron, Ohio but has since relocated to Nashville, which is admittedly a tad less hardscrabble than Akron. Along the way they have picked up Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkely fame) to produce their last three records in part (as on 2010’s Brothers) or in whole (as on El Camino and 2008’s Attack & Release). Thus, it seems The Black Keys are climbing out of the trenches a bit, risking credibility along the way.
However, if El Camino proves one thing, it is that Auerbach and Carney are not sacrificing grit despite any secondary career choices they make. Where Brothers was more blues—laid back, slow and meandering— El Camino is more rock, propelled by Carney’s frenetic drumming. Auerbach opens the record by letting his guitar reverberate for four seconds—just long enough to make “Lonely Boy” sound like a live cut—before hurtling into a dirty riff reminiscent of The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” On "Lonely Boy" Auerbach sings, “Well your mama kept you, but your daddy left you / and I should’ve done you just the same / But I came to love you. Am I going to bleed?”
Perhaps longtime fans are wondering the same. Yet, El Camino should dispel any fears about grit turning to glitz. The record does what it is supposed to do, what we’ve come to expect from The Black Keys—it rocks unpretentiously. After all, does it matter if The Black Keys play arenas? Or use a popular producer? You could take your plate of Waffle House hash browns into Le Bernardin and couple it with a $23 Champagne cocktail; the white tablecloths won’t diminish the goodness on your plate.