A Nice Taste of El Camino

Today holds big news for massive fans of The Black Keys such as myself. We had a good glimpse of the new album El Camino when they released the fist-pumping single “Lonely Boy” as well as its B-Side, “Run Right Back.” Now, we have three new tracks, meaning we have a good portion of the album to listen to. To hear the tracks, head to The Black Key’s website and give them your email. See below for a song-by-song review of what we have so far.

Lonely Boy

This is such an obvious single, it’s hard to hate it. Dan’s voice is still in true-form with all its soulful bluesman depth, but the production is dense and the beat is fast, combining the textural qualities we got on Brothers with some rock riffs and speeds we haven’t really heard since The Big Come Up. Plus, the video is just infectious.

Gold On The Ceiling

It sure sounds like the Black Keys, but goddamit there’s something fundamentally different here. The Keys have always been derivative and honest about who they’re ripping from. They’ve always just written (or re-written) the best rock/blues/soul songs they could come up with, and committed themselves to it 100%. This is definitely derivative, and it’s definitely heartfelt, but the inspiration seems to be coming from somewhere else: am I listening to the Keys or some strange encounter between Zeppelin and Beck? Is that Brendan Benson singing? It sounds like a band people would have wrongfully ignored during the 90s. The beat is like “Howlin’ For You,” and, in all honesty, I might like this a lot, but something about it feels less full and gorgeous than similar-mood songs we heard on Brothers.

Little Black Submarines

Holy shit they threw out the baby with the bathwater. This track is definitely going to earn them the Zeppelin comparisons: a slow-burn, acoustic start (almost something off Auerbach’s solo album) gives way to a heavy Nirvana-like ripping riff. It’s all so trippy and epic, it almost sounds like Tenacious D wrote it. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the Keys have definitely gone rock here. The guitar solo is definitely worth a listen, and proves that these guys haven’t lost their talent or energy.

Sister

Definitely a catchy tune. Again, I’m not sure the craft and care that was so evident on Brothers is really here, and yet it’s not as rough and furious as some of the beloved Thickfreakness or Magic Potion rips. This is another very derivative song – maybe off the track of Footloose? All these songs seem to be hitting the same energy levels without really crafting their own textures, moods, or spaces. We have density, speed, riffs, choral backing, and keyboard vamps on every track.

Run Right Back

The flip-side of Lonely Boy, this track is a goodie. Catchy, energetic, and fun. It has a darker and more sinister quality that throws back to some of the Keys’ best tracks. It doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it’s definitely memorable.

Overall First Impressions: I’m not ready to be disappointed, and, in fact, feel like this is the making of yet another solid Black Keys album. Since when have they ever delivered trash? However, I’m starting to feel that the Danger Mouse collaboration is not very productive: Attack & Release had its highlights, but was a weak-point in a solid career. The guy seems to feed off of talented musicians, and make their music interesting at first, but ultimately flat. El Camino is working up to have some great tracks, but seems to be missing the patience that was put into Brothers and the lovingly-crafted songs like “Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be”, “You’re the One”, or “Everywhere I Go.” Is this album just one single after another? Even if it is, why not? They still sound like the Keys.

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