By Kevin Casey
TFW Contributing Writer
Back in October, The Black Keys released their first single “Lonely Boy” for their new album “El Camino.” The music video consists of a single, uncut shot of a man wearing black slacks and a white button-up dancing alone to the song. There were several messages The Black Keys were sending with that video that I could not appreciate until Tuesday when the album dropped. Now, after listening to the album in its entirety, the main message is clear: You’re going to move to this music.
From the first gut-grabbing riff of “Lonely Boy” until the album closer “Mind Eraser,” The Black Keys maintain momentum and high energy that emphasize their next message: We’re making our best music yet, and we’re not showing any signs of stopping.
The Keys, made up of duo Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, have come a long way since their first album was captured in one session on an Akai 8 track recorder in Carney’s basement. Since teaming up with producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), the Keys have refined their original low-fi sound, and most recently spent 40 days in the studio for “El Camino,” adding extra layers to their guitar/drum two-man band.
The extra time spent on the album paid off. “El Camino” comes out on the back of The Black Keys’ true “big come up,” the 2010 album “Brothers” that won two Grammy Awards and boasted the single “Tighten Up” which won another. “El Camino” is even better. It has all the classic Keys sound and more.
The album has Auerbach’s simple bluesy-rock riffs distorted just enough to feel raw and improvised, but never dirty. Carney keeps the tempo high with beats that will make you tap your foot under your desk and nod your head in time with the song. Fans wouldn’t expect less from the drummer who was able to back a hot-list of hip-hop artists for the album “Blakroc.”
Even “Little Black Submarines,” the Keys’ Johnny Cash-esque lament at love lost, can’t stay solemn for long. Halfway through the song, Auerbach’s slow, melodic vocal plaint is traded in and replaced by heavy chords, gripping drums, and a wailing guitar. Auerbach repeats the same words he sang in the first half of the song, but the music gives them new meaning, as sadness is replaced with anger and energy.
Lament at love lost is definitely the same Black Keys we’ve been hearing for the past nine years. The lyrics, “She’s the worst thing I’ve been addicted to,” in “Run Right Back” carries the same message that has been sung since the first guitarman played the blues. The Black Keys’ fresh take on the genre incorporates the modernity of hip-hop and rock and their devotion to simplicity has created a timeless sound that appeals to a wide audience. The Keys pour soul into every song. They reintroduce blues-based rock ’n’ roll on a level that hasn’t been matched since the giants of the blues-rock era in the 1970s.
Albums on the level of “El Camino” are rare, but the message I got loud and clear from Dan and Pat is that things are only going to get better. So kick off your shoes, put on “El Camino” and move.
By Kevin Casey