The Black Keys: El Camino
The last few years have been pretty barren for fans of guitar music. Sure, there are plenty of great bands about if you make the effort to find them, but none have managed to grab rock and roll by the scruff of the neck and drag it back into popular consciousness.
El Camino, the seventh studio album from The Black Keys threatened to do just that as lead single ‘Lonely Boy’ assaulted the airwaves upon its release back in the autumn. A perfect single, from its infectious opening riff to triumphant final chorus (not to mention the brilliant video) it was an announcement that here we finally had a band bringing loud, gritty yet melodic rock to the masses
The first half of El Camino matches the brilliance of the single, and even betters it on the standout track and almost Led Zep-esque ‘Little Black Submarines.’ It dispels any doubt that the band might not be on top form and in fact the first six tracks of the album are amongst their best ever work, which is saying something.
But sadly this is too good to last. It’s not that the remainder of El Camino is bad by any standards, but it simply doesn’t have the arrestive qualities that the preceeding tracks do. It’s an adequately enjoyable listen, even while the record descends into more and more pedestrian, forced guitar hero nonsense but when your band consists of just a drummer and a guitarist there is nowhere to hide if your songs lack energy.
It’s as if the band realised that they’d written the best half-album possible, then decided to lazily dash off the rest and put their feet up. And God it makes El Camino a frustrating listen. This should have been a career defining record to put the rest of their sometimes erratic output in the shade. Instead it is simply another strong addition to The Black Keys back catalogue. Still an era defining record eludes them. Still guitar music languishes whilst musicians from other genres take up the mantle of making truly exciting music.