***1/2 (out of four)
“You mean the new album from the not-weird-enough version of The White Stripes?”
Look, I’m not a Black Keys disciple. It’s one of those indie groups making beautiful things happen from not much at all, but it’s also one of those groups that doesn’t taste quite right without a bottle of whiskey.
Whether or not you agree that The Black Keys are better appreciated after a few rounds at a bluesy bar, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that “El Camino” isn’t a big contender for best rock album of 2011. Way to squeak in under the deadline, guys.
A little bit country-Americana, a little more soul and a lot of liver-shaking rock ‘n’ roll, the seventh album from the guitar-and-drums duo digs deep with rumbling, roots-heavy headbangers like album opener “Lonely Boy.” It then moves swiftly along to hip-shaking rhythms like those in the almost-but-not-quite-pop-worthy “Run Right Back.” Friend just got dumped? I dare you not to put on “Sister” and stumble along while getting drunk together on a back porch.
The album’s up-tempo bangers are at the top of their game, sure. But Dan Auerbach’s hauntingly sexy vocals paired with a hushed acoustic guitar on “Little Black Submarines” are heart-wrenching—as are its lyrics, “I should have seen it glow, but everybody knows that a broken heart is blind”—before finally pushing “El Camino” over that cliff it was hovering on with a freaky foot-stomping breakdown.
What can I appreciate about The Black Keys? Auerbach and drummer/producer Patrick Carney have heart, and they have guts. And they have laid out both on the bar top with this carefully orchestrated work of slighted loves, fatal attractions and general Midwestern angst. It doesn’t get much more indie-cowboy than “El Camino,” and that’s not nearly a bad thing.
Click here to listen to "El Camino" on Spotify.