The Black Keys had begun their career in the shadow of the White Stripes, as Jack White’s ilk, their thing being basic, simplified blues/garage rock ; guitar, drums and voice. Little by little they had gained a reputation and got their career off the ground in a most interesting way, in 2008 they broadened their palat by hooking up with producer Brian Burton, best known as Danger Mouse, and two years later achieved definite success with Brothers, a record in which they infuse their offer of soul. As if not letting the chance pass up, the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney released in less than a year El Camino, the 7th record of their career. It’s a record much more focussed on the live rock of groups like the Clash, Jonathan Richman, The Cars, and Johnny Burnette. The equation they were looking for was simple in theory but dicey to bring it to fruition; to release a record in which each song would be a possible hit single.
This is why El Camino focusses on melody and rhythm, not because the lyrics aren’t important but because Auerbach and Carney are so sure of the closeness of their songs that they know you will be humming Lonely Boy even if the only thing they’ve done is recite the alphabet. There is a wink to 50s rock, to glam, to girl groups and surfers, but what there isn’t is a boring moment, Auerbach brings a splendid array of riffs as spontaneous as his chorus lines, and Carney pounds his instrument as if his life depended on it.
For the recording Auerbach digs into his amazing guitar collection, from a Dobro spider-bridge brass resonator from the 30s, which he used on the acoustic part of Little Black Submarines, turning to his Guild S-200 for the electric parts, and on to his ‘53 Les Paul, which he bought second hand, then a Supro Martinique from ‘ 65, a Danelectro and a Harmony Stratotone that is heard on all of the Black Key records.
Danger Mouse shows yet again that he is the perfect producer for a duo, hitting all the right touches. Never forgetting the soul vibe of its predecessor, this El Camino is a more live rocker album. If Lonely Boy starts the record in the best possible way, the rest is just as good. Gold on the Ceiling has the strongest riffs in the band. Little Black Submarines teases with the Zeppelinesque legacy, following the acoustic/electric model of Stairway to Heaven, where they recorded the song in two parts, acoustic and electric, then put them together. The electric bit shows best their live sound and in it, Auerbach gives it all and possibly produces the best solo of his career . Hell of a Reason and its sprinkle of reggae, and Stop Stop, with its falsetto chorus a la Curtis Mayfield brings the song closer to the previous record, they’re just a sample of what this fabulous record brings.