Thursday, February 16, 2012

Take a ride with 'El Camino'

By Reno Sorensen, Copy Editor

The Black Keys’ newest album is heavier, faster and angrier than their past projects in a look-out-for-that-muscle-car kind of way, but remains, in true Keys style, unapologetically distorted and bluesy.

El Camino gets in gear with guitarist/singer Dan Aurbach wrenching out the guitar hook to “Lonely Boy,” the opening track and the project’s first radio hit, while Patrick Carney heralds the chorus with the redneck drums of war.

Like so many blues artists before him, Aurbach sings his woe about a girl “who keeps him waiting,” only it’s more a frustrated shout at the sky than the down-and-out lament of a Clarksville crooner.

“Lonely Boy” is one of the stars of the project, as radio DJs have been want to remind us since the album came out in December, but El Camino has a few other powerful tracks in the backseat.

The Keys make a left-hand turn in “Little Black Submarines,” the fourth song of the album. Aurbach opens with an acoustic arpeggio, singing “everyone knows that a broken heart is blind.” “Submarines” showcases Aurbach’s voice and the Keys’ lyrical side and reminds me forcefully, no matter how harder I try to ignore it, of “Stairway to Heaven.” Maybe there’s just a bustle in my hedgerow.

“Hell of a Season,” track numero ocho, takes “Lonely Boy’s” sound and puts it in the passenger’s seat, reclining the tempo and enjoying the scenery. Granted, that scenery might still look something like Death Valley in August, but the theme of pent up – ahem – romantic energy remains, and Carney gets a chance to groove a little more on the skins.

The last leg of El Camino’s road trip is “Mind Eraser,” with sound that hearkens back to The Eagles or early Eric Clapton and proves that classic rock isn’t dead. Combined with Aurbach’s soulful vocal stylings, “Mind Eraser” pulls this project into the garage with a steady turn of the wheel.

El Camino is free of bad tracks. You could put it on shuffle on a long I-5 road trip and not have to touch that dial, folks. The only weakness of any Black Keys album is that it’s easy to shrug at the songs between the standouts, but every part of El Camino is worth putting on your summer playlist.

El Camino may not be as much an accomplishment in songwriting as past projects, but it establishes Aurbach and Carney as masters of the grittier, down-and-dirty rock side of blues.

Those who find themselves liking El Camino's groove should also check out Rubber Factory and The Big Come Up, two other Keys albums.

The Keys have already been through Seattle on their current tour, but El Camino is available for $8.99 on Amazon.com and $10.99 on iTunes.