I understand that the hype and general excitement surrounding the Black Keys’ newest album has come and gone, and while hardcore Black Keys fans have surely made up their minds about El Camino by now, I honestly don’t care. If I had it my way, this record would be the topic of conversation among passionate music fans for the rest of 2012. The album is that great.
Somehow, I finally emerged from my month-long El Camino haze (which included memorizing the lyrics to Lonely Boy, fantasizing about seeing Gold on the Ceiling live, and tweeting at Pat Carney every time I re-listened to El Camino [approximately 400 times, for anyone counting]), and I’ve come to this conclusion: it’s their best album yet, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a moron.
In a year that saw new album releases from indie powerhouses (and a few of my personal favorites) such as the Strokes, Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, the Kills, and many others, this was far and away my favorite album of 2011. Its raw power and surprising sleekness make it one of the best albums I’ve heard in years, and that includes 2010′s sensational Brothers. The Keys clearly picked up on the few weaknesses music critics found on Brothers and ensured that a flawless record would come out of those criticisms (i.e. cutting down the number of songs from 15 to a more digestible 11).
And to top it all off, the Keys found a way to tinker with that small corner of garage rock they hadn’t yet touched, creating a newer, shinier sound which has pissed off a few diehard fans (small minority, I’m sure). But despite all that, not once does El Camino lose its footing or its confidence. Each song is a new monster created from the brilliant mind of the double-headed Frankenstein, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney, who somehow, someway keep finding ways to reinvent a band they’ve spent a decade building.
You know an album is perfect when each listen produces a new favorite song. Gold on the Ceiling is, at the moment, my favorite, but it would make your head spin if I told you how many times I’ve changed my mind. Run Right Back? A song that goes places I’d never even associate with the Keys, and every second of that eerie, screeching guitar makes my skin crawl in the best way possible. Little Black Submarines? The closest thing we’ll ever get to a modern day Stairway to Heaven. Right out of Zeppelin’s playbook. Stop Stop? An entire chorus that showcases Dan’s beautiful, peerless falsetto and gives us an idea of how a Supremes/Black Keys remix would sound. Nova Baby? A jump-for-joy beat-tastic tune that will surely be a crowd favorite once the Keys’ tour starts.
And don’t even get me started on Lonely Boy. That song has given me an entirely new perspective on Dan’s task of writing original, catchy-as-hell guitar riffs and making it look effortless. The man is a music robot. (I mean, Girl is on My Mind, Your Touch, Strange Times, Tighten Up, I’ll Be Your Man…all from the mind of Dan. Crazy crazy stuff.)
Pat’s drumming is also seemingly on fast-forward throughout the album, something we’re all unaccustomed to. I don’t think it’s a coincidence however, that Pat’s quickest drumming coincides with the Keys’ best album yet. Dan may write most of the music and get most of the credit for the band’s success, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the awkward-looking drummer to the left of the stage who’s never had a music lesson in his life is now one of the world’s most talented musicians.
What a pair, those two. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that good old Beardy and Glasses have forgotten more about music than you or I will ever know, and that’s what separates the Black Keys from everyone else. Their dedication to their craft has finally paid off, and I couldn’t be prouder of them for selling out arenas across North America. Well done boys.
What an album, and what a band. Long live the Black Keys.