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I wasn't introduced to The Black Keys, they introduced themselves.
They formed in early 00s and their brand of raw, funked up garage rock, clearly influenced by blues music was impossible to ignore. They first time I heard this band I was hooked - the guitars screeched and sassed their way out the speakers, vocally is was southern, gravelly and almost raunchy and drum wise, drummer Patrick Carney underpinned everything with a pulse and pound similar to that of the White Stripes - but sounding less like an infant with a drum stick.
El Camino was always going to come - it was just a matter of time. Its the album that signaled real change for the band - some will claim they 'sold out', some will claim they've grown up. Unfortunately, I'm part of the former camp - this is a disappointing album.
With album number 7 they have shaken of pretty much everything that made the Black Keys sound so distinctive and have really cleaned up. Sometimes before I go out my girlfriend will insist wear something smarter that I really don't want to wear, but I wear it anyway and I spend they entire night pulling and stretching it to make it feel comfortable. I feel like this with El Camino. Its too clean, polite and polished and it just doesn't feel like a Black Keys record. This is by no means a bad album. Many of these songs won't feel out of place over the in-store radio in Topshop, on daytime Radio 1 or over the final credits of an episode of Entourage. Its just thats not, for me, where the Black Keys belong. They are cult heroes, not indie darlings.
The band hinted at this they would be going cold turkey from the sound that helped them build up a solid fanbase, with 2010 album 'Brothers'. Both 'Brothers' and 'El Camino' are produced by Hip Hop producer Dangermouse and whilst he does a great job, I see him as playing the role of reverse enabler - cleaning them up and replacing cathartic with catchy. And this album is catchy. Lead single and first song 'Lonely Boy' will take up residence in that bit of you're brain songs get stuck, but not for long - when track 6 comes around and serves an eviction notice. Track 6, 'Run Right Back' is a decent song, and for my money the best track on the album. A killer riff that no doubt really kicks of infront of a live crowd is the highlight of the song, maybe of the album - its the kind of riff that will have you hitting rewind after the first few seconds of the song just to enjoy it over and over again.
Vocally this album is a million miles from the gutty days of 'Thickfreakness' and now its Americana in buckets. Its got the harmonies, layers and everything is in tune - with a lazy drawl that combine to invoke neverending Hollywood highways, carefully choreographed sunsets and mass produced moonshine.
This is an album for the masses, and the increased range of instruments is another of the ways they have done this. When this band were just guitar and drums - the set up matched the style, you could just imagine them turning up to a gig in a mucky boozer in a van and getting stuck in. Now, there are keyboards, bass - I think I heard a Hammond organ - and it feels like a full band this time round.
There are some nice songs here - 'Dead and Gone' no doubt taps toes, 'Gold On The Sealing' is the soundtrack to a pool party in The OC and 'Stop Stop' has a chorus that is almost gospel in how lifting it is, you almost forgive the pretty dull verses inbetween. The album though just has too many moments that's just drift off into the background - about half of the songs just don't do that much. They just feel like rock music by numbers, and dare I say it - it soulless.
This band had soul. They could invoke more with a second of guitar drenched in feedback than most could with millions of dollars worth of studio time. But with 'El Camino' they have lost that, and whats worse is you can hear them desperately trying to recreate it but with a cleaner sound, more depth instrumentally and friendlier songs - then fail disappointingly. To sum this record up, if this had been their debut - they wouldn't have lasted a year, let alone ten. Its sounds nice enough, but it just fades into the background. 4/10 from me. You can pick this up physically from Amazon for about £6 used, £8 new and for £8 of iTunes - or, like me you can hear it on Spotify - as long as you can forgive being distracted every 3 songs. And also, Spotify also has these annoying adverts that play now and then.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Lonely Boy
2 Dead And Gone
3 Gold On The Ceiling
4 Little Black Submarines
5 Money Maker
6 Run Right Back
8 Hell Of A Season
9 Stop Stop
10 Nova Baby
11 Mind Erase