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The Black Keys' El Camino: Rock Album Of The Year

By Matthew Lentini | Wednesday | 11/01/2012

The new Black Keys exchange more of the raucous rockabilly rock that you hear from their singles for some tried and true twelve bar blues and strung out, twangy strings reminiscent of Jack White's whammy-infused soloing in the late White Stripes days.

The album kicks off voraciously with the heavy-headed single Lonely Boy. The tone slows down as the album progresses, but this similar melody is replicated later in the album when Hell Of A Season plays, with the same steady bass beat behind vibrant but callous strumming.

Singer Dan Auerbach pulls off more with soulful vocals than the simple combination of voice and distorted mic for the funky vintage sound that fills most of the Keys' singles.

There's an audible style-loan of riff inspiration from the old school of punk and rock thrown in from the generation of The Stooges. It's easy to point out influences here, and the songs tick along with a very familiar yet organic sound. It's pure rock, baked organically, ready to be ingested through your ears.

One of the standout tracks includes Little Black Submarines which sounds often too reminiscent of a Stairway to Heaven with less fervour. Gold On The Ceiling creates a song that sounds all too familiar yet fresh and reinvented, melding Beatles vocals and infectiously catchy, heavy-handed, thick riffs. It's not the aggressive, overdriven onslaught that past tracks have delivered - though there is plenty of buzzing lead guitar and crunchy chord mashing interlaced through the album.

In the band's progression onto the pop scene, breaking out in a big way with the album Brothers and now heading up this year's Coachella festival line-up in the US, there's a liberal sense of departure from strictly rock to a melding of stolen styles from across the last half century - there's the garage rock, the hints of punk, the off-kilter blues with call-and-response lines thrown in - it's all there.

Back-up choirs, rattling snares, high-hat smacking and echoed clapping call in the background of many numbers on this record, in a way that seems clichéd without trying to be ironic. It's unashamedly laden with cheese in one respect, yet unbelievably addictive in another (and not in the guilty pleasure kind of way).

In the same way that Aussie rockers Wolfmother and Jet took to fame with unoriginal but foot-tappingly epic rock beats of garage rock, the novelty may wear thin after a few listens, especially with few stand-out tracks. El Camino plays out in by-the-books rock form as solid as it is catchy though, and nobody today seems to be doing it quite like the Keys. If you're a nostalgia-freak looking for your next hit of old school, pick up El Camino (and the Black Keys' back catalogue).

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