As Dan Auerbach howls, “I got a love that keeps me waiting” in “Lonely Boy,” fans of Akron’s finest (sorry, Lebron) realize how lucky they are to have a love that doesn’t — it’s been a mere 18 months since the Black Keys dropped Brothers, and their new album El Camino marks their third release since 2008. The breadth to which their fan base has grown is as remarkable as their work ethic — with the Black Keys as the last vestiges of unadulterated, plug-it-in-and-jam rock‘n’roll, it’s clear why jabronies and housewives rock out to them with equal abandon.
The Black Keys
But don’t believe Auerbach’s wails of being lonely for a second. The days of him and drummer Patrick Carney cranking out tunes in abandoned factories are long gone, and with a little help from their friends — a scorching bassist, booming backup singers and virtuoso producer Danger Mouse — the Black Keys have crafted the tightest record in their arsenal.
El Camino turns on the afterburners from its first track, going from zero to 80 within the opening licks of the boisterous “Lonely Boy.” Melding a firecracker of a riff with smashing set work by Carney, the song nails the one thing the Black Keys had always been missing — music that gets people to bust a move.
The band maintains this level of amplified energy throughout the album — it’s still their signature soul and freewheeling vivacity, taken with a few cases of Red Bull. “Dead and Gone” drives relentlessly, pulsating with the harmony of a mighty chorus. The following track, “Gold on the Ceiling” is a 24-carat cut of blues rock, featuring lacerating riffs and searing, Jack White-esque solos.
The Black Keys have racked up a lot of mileage, prompting El Camino to sputter in a few songs. “Hell of a Season” and “Sister” lie among the pack of fairly forgettable tracks, spearheaded by the unbearably screechy “Run Right Back.” The missteps aren’t as lethal as the sleepiness that sunk their last collaboration with Danger Mouse, Attack and Release, but the band still has some fine-tuning to do before completing an immortal album.
El Camino is buoyed by “Little Black Submarine,” the rare song in the collection in which the band stops to catch its breath — albeit a brief one. Auerbach begins with a heart-wrenching serenade, emotive yet uncomplicated, before launching into a throttling barrage of frenzied solos, alongside Carney, who lets loose with his best Jon Bonham impersonation. Oozing with bombast and bravado, the song is the Black Keys at the pinnacle of their emotional and instrumental ingenuity. Is it their “Stairway to Heaven”? Their “Runaway”? Time will tell.
The saviors of modern rock‘n’roll as we know it, the Black Keys unleash their pent-up energy throughout El Camino in a crisp 38 minutes. As the album comes to its thunderous conclusion with “Mind Eraser,” Auerbach moans, “Don’t let it be over” on top of a slap-happy bass line and Carney’s primal thrashing. Don’t worry guys, we want the tunes to keep coming too. If you play it, we will listen.