As important as it is for music to create stories and emotion, there’s just as much to be said for music that’s just plain fun: for songs that are just plain ridiculous, for guitar riffs that get absolutely burned into your head and for bands that make you want to hop in a beat-up car and zoom down to the nearest saloon and then take home seven cowgirls after winning a bar fight. That’s just what The Black Keys have given us in El Camino, their newest LP.
The band’s last release is just a year behind them, and it was a biggie; 2010’s Brothers was a huge work—bluesy, rich and hard to top. Yet it seems that the Black Keys have made a better album this time simply by not trying to; El Camino is significantly shorter, but it’s packed with zest. In a world where Justin Bieber has more than one album out, this music is a completely crazy joy, nothing if not gritty and honest. If Brothers was a giant plate of barbecue ribs, then El Camino is a helping of buffalo wings, unstoppable and delicious.
I use the analogy because eating good flavorful food is exactly what this album reminds me of. It’s grimy, reckless and lovable. A lyric from “Run Right Back” echoes my feelings about the album: “She’s the worst thing / I’ve been addicted to.”
While all the songs share this recipe as well as the same theme (unstable romance with dangerous women), they’re varied enough to keep those jaw-dropping moments coming, those moments when you sit there and laugh at how simply dirty and cathartic all these sounds are. These moments are all over, from the ZZ Top-style riff on “Gold on the Ceiling” to the fiery solo on “Sister” and everywhere in between. It’s the abundance of these that gives the album its killer quality. It just doesn’t get old.
This is the second album on which the Black Keys have had help from the omnipresent producer Danger Mouse, and although the guy’s certainly displayed production talent in the past, I’m not sure if he’s really worth keeping around. It seems like all he does is sneak around like a little mouse and add unnecessary frills to all the songs; if you hear a weird little intro, outro or background instrument, it’s probably him. Maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon though, because there are moments on El Camino where the Black Keys seem like they’re just making a lot of noise for no particular reason (I’m looking at you, “Money Maker”), and the album might have been better served by controlling the ruckus a little more.
But ultimately, that’s just part of the charm. It doesn’t matter if the song is lyric-driven (“Nova Baby”) or instrument-driven (“Lonely Boy”), or one of those classics where the band hits the soft spot between the two (“Little Black Submarines”). All the tracks are gnarly and the album on the whole is fun no matter what kind of music you listen to, or whether you can identify with the lyrics or not, because it’s planted right on the foundation of the Black Keys: a rock-hard slab of awesome. 8.5/10
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor