El Camino boasts a no-nonsense brilliance: The pace is fast, the mood is upbeat, the choruses unfailingly addictive - made for shouting along, preferably in a large, sweaty crowd.
A band already at the top of its game has gotten even better. And The Black Keys have done pretty damn well so far this year, with three 2011 Grammy awards for Brothers under their belt, an MTV Video Music Award for 'Tighten Up', more than 850,000 copies of Brothers sold in the US, and upwards of a million units worldwide (including over 100,000 in the UK). 'El Camino' features one stand-out track after another, such as first single 'Lonely Boy', 'Gold on the Ceiling', and the surprising, acoustic-guitar-driven, tempo shifting 'Little Black Submarines'.
"This record is more straight ahead rock and roll - raw, driving, and back to basics," says Auerbach. As Carney has put it, The Black Keys "respect the past while being in the present," and that formula has made them sound like nothing less than the future of rock and roll. While the largely self-produced 'Brothers', recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama, had a more soul and blues-oriented sound, 'El Camino' often recalls the blitzkrieg-paced British-style rock of the 1960s and 70s, post-Beatles and pre-punk: artists like T-Rex and The Sweet, along with the heavier swing of such bands as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
The references are there, but the sound is very much contemporary and utterly their own, equally informed by The Black Keys' passion for hip hop and R&B and bolstered by the atmospheric production approach of Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton), who was behind the boards for 2008's 'Attack & Release' and collaborated with them on the funky 'Tighten Up' for 'Brothers'. As Auerbach notes, "Brian understands all the different kinds of music we're into. He's got really great ideas about melody and song structure. For him it's all about the song." Also rejoining them is consistently innovative mixing engineer Tchad Blake, who Auerbach calls "a genius with audio, a complete wizard".
It came together quickly in an unfettered burst of creativity by the hard-charging pair. They recorded these 11 tracks between tour dates for 'Brothers' at Auerbach's new Easy Eye Studio in Nashville, where he and Carney have now relocated after years of working in their native Akron, Ohio. The duo plan to embark on a six week European Tour at the start of the New Year, with US dates to follow shortly thereafter-including several arenas.
In a time of global austerity, The Black Keys work simply and efficiently, with a minimum of tools and a wealth of ideas, to produce the richest, fattest, coolest music around. Upon the release of 'Brothers' last year, Britain's Uncut magazine called them "one of the best rock'n'roll bands on the planet," and El Camino, confirms that.