For the last few years, I have been enjoying the music of The Black Keys. I was first drawn to the band because they have a drum and guitar setup, much like one of my favorite bands, The White Stripes. I quickly came to realize that the two are not anything alike in terms of sound other than a nice raw feel and not too much production. I have also enjoyed the minimalism with which they present themselves in a live setting.

The new album El Camino is a successful follow-up to The Black Keys’ previous albums. As always, the music is superb. In writing this review, I came to realize that music writing is the stronger aspect of The Black Keys. For example, take the song Sister. Here is a video of them playing the song at Webster Hall recently at the record release party.

It really hits you hard, I feel. Then I looked, because I don’t always understand what is being sung in music. Since there are hundreds of web sites which have the lyrics to almost every album available, it is easy to find the words to the songs that I want to understand better. I don’t always like what I discover, it turns out.

shake up
gotta shake up you’re freezin’
make up
i’m gonna make up my reasons
i used to say i need you
but now i gotta leave you
sister what did they do to you

As much as I do love the music, the lyrics really don’t do much for me. I was considering going back and looking at the lyrics of different albums from the past and then decided that it was best that I kept my current level of appreciation for the albums exactly as they are.

The drum-work throughout this album is consistently solid. Listening to a song like “Hell of a Season,” you would think that drummer Patrick Carney were about to break through the drums with the ferocity of his beat. Yet he knows exactly when to let up and let the guitar shine through, an important thing to consider when the majority of your musical sound only comes from two instruments.

I would like to mention another aspect of the album, which is the lengths to which the band went to market it. A couple of months ago, they placed an advertisement in a local Ohio newspaper which made no mention of the album itself — it was an advertisement selling the actual vehicle after which the album is named, the silly truck / car El Camino. (I have seen a number of these in my life and I go from being amused by them to wondering what kind of mind conceived of the car.) From there they put up a web site and eventually released a single — resulting in fairly good sales thusfar.

The Black Keys are still not on Spotify and it appears they are not presently interested in letting potential fans hear their music before committing to buy it — but I suppose if it works for them, they are free to do so. It seems to me that being on Spotify would be good as some of my favorite new music that I have heard recently has only been found through the free Spotify service.

El Camino is available in three different formats — CD, vinyl, and digital download. I of course recommend vinyl but I cannot fully commit to the recommendation as I have not been buying too much music since Chaim Yosef was born. I would unhesitatingly recommend it for one and all, nevertheless.

4 Comments

  1. Great review, Gordon. I discovered the Black Keys on Spotify during the Summer. All their old albums are on Spotify. I was listening to the new “radio” mix on the service and I heard this incredible scuzzy Blues guitar sound with a new twist — and it was the Black Keys’ “Busted” from The Big Come Up. That has become one of my favorite albums.

    I agree that El Camino is sort of pale in comparison with their early work. They were heavily Blues influenced at the start and the last couple of albums have been a definite turn into a more mainstream popularity. My favorite song on the new album is “Little Black Submarine” — it sounds like a new Led Zeppelin song — but I agree the lyrics on the album are just awful, especially on Little Black Submarine. Nothing makes sense except for the rhythm and the melody — and that leaves a big hole in the overall ability to become everlasting.

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  2. I think this is #2 best album of the year. Nothing surpasses Florence Welch, though.

    They’ve changed – compare “Tighten Up” and, say, “Money Maker”. I like the said twist actually. It’s rawer than anything, but at the same time very radio-friendly. There’s no lyrical depth as you noted, however I’m quite sure that does not hurt the listening experience as long as you’re not all into meanings and interpretations for things. It’s all about it.

    Good review.

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