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The Black Keys balance grit,
hooks and pop-sheen for
a winning seventh effort

The Black Keys - El Camino
(Nonesuch Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: December 16, 2011
The Black Keyss

Review by Tony Bonyata

Ever since The Black Keys unleashed their brilliant brand of feral punk-blues on their 2002 debut album, The Big Come Up, there's been a wave of bands tapping into a similar style of down-and-dirty blues-rock (and, like The Black Keys, many of these duos). What separates The Keys' Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney from the pack is how this Akron, OH duo has musically grown over the last decade. On their sixth full-length album, Brothers, co-helmed by famed producer Danger Mouse, the twosome broke through the mainstream last year with an album that, while never totally abandoning their trademark blues sound, stretched far beyond their humble roots - incorporating southern soul, howl-at-the-moon glam-rock rave-ups, falsetto-kissed funk and sinewy pop numbers. While Auerbach and Carney's songwriting skills have grown immensely over the last decade, don't think of it as the band 'maturing' as much as them learning how to appeal to the masses without losing their edge or, worse, selling out.

Enter their recently released seventh effort El Camino, an album also co-produced by Danger Mouse, and one that builds on the strength of Brothers. The Keys turn in the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am glam of "Gold On The Ceiling," the gritty rock of "Lonely Boy," "Run Right Back" and "Money Maker," along with the catchy soul of "Dead and Gone," the radio friendly pop of "Nova Baby" and frail soul of "Little Black Submarines," which, by mid-song shifts gears into a barn-burning rocker that could successfully fill an arena - which, not so surprisingly, this duo will be doing on their upcoming North American tour in March as they play the cavernous likes of the United Center in Chicago and Madison Square Garden in NYC (to be honest, it's a little too big for my britches, but more power to 'em).

While Auerbach and Carney have toned-down some their rawer blues tendencies on this effort, it still manages to sound a bit rougher around the edges than Brothers, which may please fans of their earlier work. Perhaps one of the strongest points of The Black Keys' recent material, however, is how catchy and immediate each track is. This may, for the most part, just be a couple of dudes from Akron getting their ya-yas out, but with strong production values, killer hooks and some truly incendiary playing (these guys can seriously "bring it"), the tunes on this platter successfully hearkens back to the golden age of rock radio in the late '60s and early '70s (for my money still the best 'commercial' music ever put to wax, tape or zeroes & ones). El Camino may not be The Black Keys' best record to date, but I'd be hard-pressed to take the piss out of anyone who says otherwise.

Related articles:

The Black Keys (Lollapalooza 2009) - Festival review - Chicago, IL - Aug. 2010
The Black Keys - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - Sept. 2008
The Black Keys (Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival) - Festival review - Manchester, TN - June 2007
The Black Keys - Concert review - Chicago, IL - Nov. 2006
Down and Dirty with The Black Keys - Exclusive interview with Dan & Patrick - Aug. 2003
Beck / Dashboard Confessional / The Black Keys - Concert review - Chicago, IL - June 2003
The Black Keys - Brothers - Album review
The Black Keys - Rubber Factory - Album review
Dan Auerbach (Lollapalooza 2009) - Festival review - Chicago, IL - Aug. 2009
Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid - Album review Feb. 2009

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