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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Black Keys' El Camino: A First Listen

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 9:00 AM


No matter what you've read, the Black Keys are as generic as Kings of Leon. The super-successful Brothers was a good record, but didn't escape its own sameyness by the time you're waiting for it to be over. And their success only speaks to the market's sore vain need for a famous rock band right now. I need one, too -- but frozen food-section White Stripes isn't it. Prove me wrong, El Camino.

"Lonely Boy"

An interesting detuning bass slurp kicks things off before turning quickly into a less interesting chorus: "I've got a love that keeps me waiting." Everything's predictable in that futurist-tasteful Danger Mouse way. A big shiny synth organ riff and stiffly quantized drum pats make this another pretty-good nothing song for the blockiest blues band of all time.

"Dead and Gone"

More stabbing organ, metronomic pounding and a "la, la" hook augmented by a tinkling instrument. They're clearly trying to arrange themselves away from their minimalism, but don't seem to know how. Somehow "I will love you when you're gone" manages to be the exact same chorus as the last song's. No matter what textures the duo seems to tack on -- fuzz bass, glockenspiel -- they can't escape their own butt-basic songwriting.

"Gold on the Ceiling"

Finally a quirky beat. Buzzing analog synths augment this blues shuffle, but, uh, this is no "Sharp Dressed Man." The solo's respectable, and I kind of love the tinniness of the marching background against Dan Auerbach's C-list Gregg Allman howling. I long for a misplaced note or a blown speaker.

"Little Black Submarines"

"Voices calling me/ They get lost in and out of time" leads into "A broken heart is blind." So normal I actually perked up when I heard "Oh can it be" as "oh, can of beans." This might be a good time to bring up what an underrated lyricist Jack White is, since they ape him at the two-minute mark anyway. Patrick Carney tries his darnedest to drum the hell out of the "loud" section of this two-part tune, and Auerbach shreds in his politely doled-out way. But their excitement is still the most canned in "rock."

"Money Maker"

Seriously, this is an iPod commercial. "Money Maker" -- fuck your title. Oh wait, a talkbox solo ought to smooth things over. Jet called, they want their total absence of ideas back.

"Run Right Back"

Fellow critic: "Which one is the Black Lips and which one is the Black Keys again?"

Me: "The Black Keys have a Grammy."

This is probably the best song I've heard so far. Its subterranean crunch is fitted with an actual birdlike slide(?) figure, and it's cool when everything but the fuzz bass drops out for verse two. Don't "run right back to her" though, idiot, you're just gonna leave again anyway. Don't you know what happens in the blues? I'm as envious of their distortion pedals as I'm thankless of their songwriting.

Next: El Camino improves -- somewhat -- on its second half

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Dan Weiss


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