El Camino, the seventh studio album by The Black Keys, is the perfect record to listen to if you’re in possession of a beat-up pickup truck, live in the Midwest, or enjoy listening to dirty music at full volume.
Or all of the above.
“Lonely Boy”, the single and opening track, is gritty and covered with dust, as guitarist Dan Auerbach’s vocals and infectious riff immediately catch hold of the listener and sets their toes to tapping.
“Well, your mama kept you, but your daddy left you, and I should have done you just the same,” Auerbach croons. “But I came to love you, and I want to flee any old time you keep me waiting.”
The music video for “Lonely Boy” features Derrick T. Tuggle, a 48-year-old security guard, and only Tuggle, as he shimmies and shakes and occasionally mouths the lyrics outside of a motel room. The simplicity of this reflects that of the album itself; it’s not one for the high-minded music snobs.
It is for the everyday man and woman who can appreciate a sound that calls to mind the freedom driving holds, summer days jamming out in the garage down the block and loitering in fast food parking lots.
The cover of the album features, not an El Camino, but the Chrysler Town & Country the duo originally set off in during the early years of their career.
El Camino recalls the energy and soul in their 2003 album, “Thickfreakness”, a blues masterpiece with all the rawness of a piece of sandpaper.
“Little Black Submarines”, for instance, begins soft and sweet as can be, as Auerbach intones, “I should’ve seen it glow, but everybody knows that a broken heart is blind.”
A short pause follows, as the distortion kicks in and takes this slow crooner to a Led Zeppelin-level of soaring guitars and rolling drums, “Ramble On” style.
It’s the Black Keys all grown up, with a sound that melds blues with the essentials found in early rock n’ roll; the guitar and drum kit do not dance around each other, but instead flow together in one enormous sound.
Following the massive success of their 2010 album Brothers, Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney teamed up with producer Danger Mouse, previously with Gorillaz, Broken Bells and Beck, to spend 41 days recording, splitting song-writing duties three ways.
The tongue-in-cheek attitude of the album continues with “Gold on the Ceiling,” a bouncy tune that utilizes the same synth effect as in Brothers’ “Howlin’ for You” and plays with the subject of “golddiggers,” women who seek to attach themselves to rich men.
“They want to get my gold on the ceiling,” Auerbach croons. “It’s just a matter of time before you steal it.”
In the same spirit, “Run Right Back” features the teasing nature of Auerbach’s lyrics, which don’t take themselves too seriously, saying, “Well she’s a special thing, she doesn’t read too much, oh, there is no doubt that she’s written about.
“Finest, exterior, she’s so superior,” he flirts.
El Camino reveals a band that isn’t seeking to regain the success of their previous album. Instead, Auerbach and Carney play what feels good for them to play, songs that they will enjoy during a live performance. To put it simply, they’re making music for the music.
After waiting almost ten years to make it big, the Black Keys know how to do that better than anyone.