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The Black Keys – El Camino
Label: Nonesuch – 7559-79633-1, Nonesuch – 7559796331
Format: CD, LP, Download
Released: 05 Dec 2011
Back in the early 2000’s the music world saw a resurgence in a long forgotten musical movement, Garage Rock, a raw, energetic and uncouth form of Rock ‘n’ Roll that was a precursor to and highly influenced Punk Rock, originally developed by American bands in the 60’s it was a fairly shortlived explosion of high distortion fuzzbox antics that culminated in the early 70’s with the “last Garage Band” and Proto-Punk pioneers, The Stooges. In essence Garage has never left us but just morphed into Punk and then stayed underground until bands like The White Stripes, The Hives, The Vines and The Strokes (I’m seeing a nomenclature theme forming here) brought it storming back to drown out all the overwrought warbling boys bands that had infected the mainstream charts of the time.
The Black Keys were quite late to this resurgence of noisy Guitars and shouty vocals emerging in 2002 with their debut album “The Big Come Up” but instead of hitting the ground running like the bands mentioned above The Black Keys took some time to build a reputation among “serious music fans” without hitting the musical big time until their music started to be heard on TV ads and then with the release of their sixth studio album “Brothers” the accolades started to pour in including a couple of Grammy’s, woohoo I hear you cry “they’ve finally made it now”
With their seventh studio release, El Camino, The Black Keys from the outset hit you with distorted guitars and pounding drums in the form of opener “lonely boy” though quickly moving the tune to have some Pop melodic sensibilities with effected main vocals and backing in a tight bluesy style that keeps up a rawness that is the signature of the Garage Rock sound. And that really sets the scene for the rest of the album with fast, energetic, tuneful song after song after song urging you to singalong, play air Guitar or Drums and this all coming from a duo, yes The Black keys are a duo, comprising of Akron, Ohio natives Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, but the big ballsy sound they create gives the impression of a much bigger outfit.
The overriding feel to El Camino for me is, fun, as the boys chuck the history of modern Rock music at you the listener from the T-Rex/Glam infected “Gold On The Ceiling” and “Run Right Back” to the 90’s Grungy workouts on “Little Black Submarines” and “Money Maker” to the more contemporary Rocks sounds on “Sister”, “Stop Stop” and “Nova Baby” theres also a somewhat 70’s/80’s British New Wave flavoured track in “Hell Of A Season” its all here in the form of 11 tightly knitted, energetic, short (all tracks run in the three minute mark except Little Black Submarines) and sweet tunes that will have you bouncing around the room leeching on the raw energy these two guys throw at their music with a style that drags those older sounds and themes firmly into the 21st century.
Through all the fuzzbox, effected vocals, thumping drums and gospel backing vocals is a excellently arranged and produced sound that keeps the raw edge needed to let the electricity of the Guitars and effects permeate the listening room and get the air fizzing with excitement. You also will not be surprised by this as the man behind the sound is none other than producer Danger Mouse and if you’ve heard any of his previous productions like Becks – Modern Guilt, The Good The Bad And The Queen or Broken Bells you’ll know what to expect. At its heart this is a band that have honed their talents over the years and finally broken into the bigtime and on evidence on El Camino they deserve the plaudits they are receiving. For me this is sort of band and music that would have been all over the mainstream charts and TOTP’s if it had been released in the 70’s/80’s but we live in a different musical landscape today and it took the advertising industry to put The Black Keys firmly on the map, what this says about the state of mainstream music we could spend spend an eternity debating, but if you have the wherewithal to search out quality modern Rock, its certainly out there.
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I knew nothing of this artist before this arrived for review, just a vague feeling I had listened to something by him on Spotify once.