El Camino - The Black Keys

Heh-heh-heh! The title to the Black Keys' seventh CD is taken from the unique El Camino car that non-traditionalized the pick-up truck style in the then-very-thriving American automobile industry. Thus, with typical Keys irreverence, not a single El Camino is pictured in the quadra-fold release but instead a series of vans (Lumina, etc.). Of course 'el camino' is Spanish for 'the path', and therein contains a whole set of meanings that can be read into itself. Nevertheless, leave it to these guys to flip the concept on its head, even going so far as to spoof themselves by advertising a '94 Chrysler Town & Country van in a local Akron, Ohio, newspaper as an El Camino just to field the perplexed responses. And before anyone asks, yes, it was the car itself that tripped the blokes out and still does. Why they went the way they did is anyone's guess, but you know the newer generations' artists and their subtler appreciations of misdirection and irony, thank God.

Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) co-produced and co-wrote this entire outing after working with the lads on Brothers for the single "Tighten Up", and the result is highly interesting. The guy managed to blend the duo's wont with his own without sacrificing an ounce of either's trademarks. The band has always favored a rock 'n rolly early days roughness to its ouevre, an element sitting well in every generation's ears, accounting for their sudden mega-success commercially last time around. This CD is no exception. After a period of brainstorming, writing, arranging, and everything else necessary before studio time, most of the cuts were captured in just one or two takes. So, when you hear sections of rockabilly, folk, and even a hefty amount of T. Rex (for instance, "Run Right Back", which has a great little Norman Greenbaumy solo as the track winds down), all with period ambiance, then you know why that's so. Hell, even Led Zeppelin invoked the raw value of such a process on their first LP, still the best all-time R&R work ever issued, and The Black Keys haven't misunderstood the import of the era and its ways.

With a wry chuckle, one also notes the choice of label since Magic Potion: Nonesuch, a legendary imprint that used to first feature classical, then world, jazz, folk, and pioneering electronic works (mostly through the brainworks and attitude of Jac Holzman), all of which have continued to influence myriad musicians over the decades and will continue to do so after a century has passed, probably even longer. So we see a certain appropriateness here, even, as I say, if sieved through the lens of a later generation's grasp of things. Nonetheless, it's the raw refined power of this disc that speaks so well for it. The opening chords announce that just before fading into Carl Perkins territory by way of rockified Chicago blues. Through it all, though, the rhythmatics are highly engaging, often a dinosauric stomp, obviously the hybrid of Mouse and Keys drummer Patrick Carney with guitarist Dan Aeurbach's abetting influence (catch his chords expecially in "Dead and Gone", a tertiary percussive ostinato).

Frankly, El Camino is a very welcome return to the days when David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Jeff Lynne & Roy Wood, Ian Hunter, and a coterie of groundbreaking composers took to subsuming all that had come before in order to nail those very antecedents down in a newer evocation presaging the future. The Keys aren't doing that last part so much but rather just revelling in the glory of the 60s and 70s. I have to say I find Auerbach's solos to be much too short, the main emphasis of all three being on the churning dynamics of each song as a single unit, but nonetheless dead perfect as quotations of the time's psychedelic uniqueness. The guy really needs to go hog wild on the next CD. Listen to the middle eight of "Moneymaker" and elsewhere to see why. This guy knows why the fretbender greats of the past did as they did. Still in all, El Camino is going to bowl over rockers above and below the 50-year-old line, not just the post-MTV crowd, and I'm pretty sure that's what the BK crew intended. Despite all socio-political implications otherwise, this is a time of unity not fractionation, more necessary now than ever before, and who's going to know that first if not the artists?

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