The Black Keys – “El Camino”

by marcopantella


One day last year, I was shopping with my best friend in High Street Kensington when browsing inside one of the stores our attention was caught by the music playing in the background rather than the clothes around us. I asked the shop assistant and this is how I found out that the song, such a sweet one, was called “The Only One” by The Black Keys.

As I kept listening to their album “Brothers” I was surprised that I never heard before about this American duo from Ohio since they have been releasing albums starting from 2002 but as we know, music industry has its rules and band members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney had a worldwide breakthrough with their 2010 album “Brothers”. This year we see them teaming up with producer Danger Mouse to create the most intense 39 minutes – 11 tracks – uptempo and riff-driven album from a band titled “El Camino”.

The english translation of the title means “the road” or “the path” and there is no better way to put into two words the feeling of being taken down a road leading to The Beatles rock and roll vibe of the 60’s as each track unfolds. After difficulties in the live presentation of the slower tracks  from “Brothers” the band needed to come up with more uptempo songs and as they  drew strong influence from American music such as soul, surf rock and rockabilly “El Camino” came to life in 41 recording days after a  “brainstormed until we had the songs” process as vocalist Auerbach stated.

Leaving behind the genre that characterized their sound so far, blues, this new musical dimension is clear within the first few seconds of the opening track and leading single “Lonely Boy”. It feels like a live show is about to start and it is one that is going to blow you away. Contagious. The next stop along this road is “Dead and Gone” and drummer  Patrick Carney delivers an all-consuming sound accompanying Auerbach singing for a dangerous lover “I’ll go anywhere you go, oh oh oh”.

Lyrically, it is not the most ambitious or personal album but a note is deserved to the fact the lyrics has been written after the music, improvised and placed in the existing space created at the end of a musical productions that includes even the bathroom of their studio used as echo chamber for recording vocals and handclaps. In the writing process, producer Danger Mouse was also co-writer in every of the 11 tracks after producing only one song “Tighten Up” in their previous record. “Dead and Gone” was the first completed track and after that there is no turning back in the El Camino, it simply is as intended to be, a frivolous journey of escapism with a stripped-down sound with guitars, drums, organs, basses and vocals. The second single off the record ” Gold on the Ceiling” shows this with its unconventional pre-chorus and its focus on the vocal melody.

Things get calmer along the way during “Little Black Submarines”, can’t help thinking of “Yellow Submarine” title wise, and as the touching line “everybody knows that a broken heart is blind” is sung, an explosion of guitars comes in right through the end. Clever and penetrating. Even though Auerbach admitted that lyrically, “none of the songs really have any meaning”, I wonder if the divorce from his wife during the recording sessions of “Brothers” is still affecting what they want to express with “El Camino” and if he faces the theme of love with this album he does it in a delicate and relatable way. Hints of anger and revenge are present in “Hell of a Season”, the impossibility to run away from a lover that plays with us in the more pop charged song “Stop Stop” and the pain from seeing someone we love wasting his life in “Nova Baby”.

Everyone, from their strong underground fan base to garage rock lovers and new listeners will enjoy the ride along this tracks and as every journey has to come to an end, the closing track “Mind Eraser” honestly states how it hurts and how letting go is an hopeless option. “Oh don’t let it be over” is repeated over and over and as the album ends, you will want to start  “El Camino” again, by now you know what I mean.

The Black Keys are not at their best or worst, they are simply different with this record, beautifully bringing back retro influences from The Clash, Ramones and The Beatles in a very ingenious way. It will leave you feeling liberated and released. Not bad for a stop along our personal journey.