Rock music lost its identity over the past decade somewhere between The White Stripes and Nickelback.
In the past 10 years, bands such as The Strokes, Kings of Leon and The Stripes (not so much Nickelback) have made worthwhile cases. Unfortunately, all have either A.) disbanded and/or B.) strayed from the simple, dirty aesthetics that made them great in the first place. In that decade Akron’s The Black Keys has varied slightly in sound (from modernized Delta blues to experimental Zeppelin-esque R&B) but has remained the only noticeable constant. On December 6, the group released El Camino, their seventh studio album. The drop is important because it solidifies one important fact: rock has a new poster child worth supporting.
El Camino’s lead-off track, “Lonely Boy,” is what enthusiasts and potential advertisers can (and should) salivate over: loud guitar, even louder drums and the loathsome relationship lyrics that have underscored a large body of their work. Lead singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach laments, “Well I’m so above you/And it’s plain to see/But I came to love you anyways/So you tore my heart out/And I don’t mind bleeding,” over kamikaze riffs. The track’s proceeding hook sees the Black Keys accomplish two things. It summarizes the song’s theme and provides a hook that’s insatiably potent. The latter characteristic resonates loudest. It’s the crucial, pivotal bridge that connects hardcore fans with new listeners, allowing continued fan credibility and pop success.
“The Colbert Report” interview on Tuesday December 6, 2011.
El Camino is shorter than the group’s last effort, Brothers (which is a blessing), but the 11-track length employs every distinct sound that rock effectively needs from The Black Keys. Want something that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page would’ve churned out in the 1970s? Check “Little Black Submarines.” Pine for the girl-turned-addiction metaphor The Keys has popularized? “Run Right Back” has the appropriate fix. Or if you’re in the mood for Motown sound, digestible hooks and pop-oriented goodness, “Stop Stop” has you covered too.
Even the album’s title parlays a certain significance. Although the Chevrolet El Camino displays a sort of past kitsch, it’s still a car that gets the driver from point A to point B in a distinctly tongue-in-cheek manner. The album El Camino delivers its listeners the same experience with an insatiability that appeals across fan divides—from Hip-Hop fans to rock and pop enthusiasts.
Performing “Gold on the Ceiling” live on “The David Letterman Show” on Wednesday, December 7th.
Most importantly, however, the album’s just plain likeable. Black Keys detractors will denounce the album for, again, sounding exactly the same as past efforts. Others will lament that the Keys have wasted another effort in which they could’ve sounded like Robert Johnson’s bastard white grandnephews. In their defense, the album isn’t the Black Keys’ absolute best, but that argument is neither here nor there.
These people are missing the fact that The Black Keys are more omnipresent than their favorite Rust Belt bar band. They’re rock heavyweights – soulful brothers with an uncanny ear for mainstream hits and sounds that even Dame Dash can appreciate.
At this point, that’s what rock needs. God bless The Keys for recognizing that.