Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Black Keys - El Camino

I do have to hand to the Keys on one standpoint. They have gotten out a product by themselves or a side-project virtually every year of their existence. Plus, they are consistenly good. Amped-up garage blues is a tried and true format and they haven't run it aground quite yet. I do see, however, a pattern of sameness in the last couple of releases. I do not blame the common element of producer Danger Mouse for this, as he seems to be the one who has pushed their sonic boundaries beyond their two-man limitations. It's more of a songwriting stagnancy that I see. As if Dan were leaning on the production to compensate for playing virtually the same riffs. It all sounds great, but will it always sound great? This will weigh on me as we proceed with their newest.

For example, the first single has taken the old feel, and added a shuffled-up surf beat; pushed up the chorus to arena-sized singalong status and created a ready made radio hit. The same kind of thing that I loved about "Next Girl"; but still without teeth. "Gold on the Ceiling" employs the same synth-hum that made "Howlin' For You" a distinctive sound - which makes this less disctinctive.

There are highlights. "Little Black Submarines" begins with Dan alone and acoustic. Singing with a passion he hasn't in some time about the losses that broken hearts take from us. The melody reminds me vaguely of Bob Dylan's "Love Sick" but feels good. Then, the crunchiest electric wave crashes on the proceedings. "Hell of a Season" is more of a Patrick highlight, giving us the strongest backbeat of the record. And for some reason, everything that makes me roll my eyes at the new Keys comes together all at once in "Nova Baby". Clearly the poppiest thing they've almost ever done, but somehow one of my favorites.

The same things that made a favorite of Brothers are all here too. Decent songs. 3:00-plus minutes. The anxious blues riffing of old Keys's music have been traded happier sounding sing-alongable structured tunes. The basement production of old has been rounded out to include full pop instrumentation and background vocals. And at a paltry 38 minutes long, easily digestable. I'm afraid they're going to get bored to a Rolling Stones level. My worries are completely founded on this record- it's still a recommended listen. That old El Camino still has that old smell of nostalgia, even if you're less excited to drive it now. (3 of 5 stars)

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