Sound — 9
The Black Keys have long been a filthy sounding blues-rock duo, but now with the addition of Danger Mouse going full-time behind their soundboard, that dirt has become a little more polished. Whether this is really a good thing or not is up for debate; personally I loved their fuzz-drenched, imperfect, Thickfreakness sound, but it's all good. Sadly, The Black Keys are no longer the little musical secret only for people in the know; the secret is out and it will be coming to a stadium near you very soon. While we can all bitch about them not playing the small venues or that they are now becoming overexposed, the simple fact is that the music is still great. Their is no compromising the sound, it's still all Keys. Dan Auerbach had said they were much more influenced by bands who pushed the tempo this time around, such as The Clash or The Cramps, and it does show. There are a lot more sharp, punchy chords to frame the verses on El Camino, but don't worry, all the guitar-riffy goodness is still very much there. While these songs are not as bare-bones as they used to be, with keyboards and synth often filling in the empty spaces, The Black Keys have definitely found their own rock sound, whether it's in the mainstream now or not.
Lyrics — 9
"Oh can it be, the voices calling me, they get lost and out of time. I should have seen it glow, but everybody knows that a broken heart is blind, that a broken heart is blind." That line is taken from the song Little Black Submarines, which some have described as the new Stairway to Heaven. There are places on this album where you could say Dan went for the hook a little too hard, such as the obvious hit-making, Stop, Stop, but for the most part, the lyrics are still as raw, cool and emotionally resonant as ever. Little Black Submarines calls back to the type of depth heard on Rubber Factory's The Lengths. As for the singing, Auerbach proved on Brothers that he can sing in a variety of styles and ranges. This time around, Dan didn't go for the falsetto as much as the last record, but his vocals are just as dynamic as ever.
Overall Impression — 9
I liked Brothers a lot, but there were still songs on it that I routinely passed on. With El Camino, their are eleven tracks and they are all pretty solid. The weakest songs on the album are Gold on the Ceiling, which may be the new Howling For You, and Stop, Stop, which is a little more hooky than most Keys offerings. While it isn't as blues as Chulahoma or as raw as Thickfreakness, El Camino fits nicely in their library of records. Other than Little Black Submarines, my favorite track on the album is Sister, which is the closest to the older style of songs from Dan and Pat that you will find on the album. These songs are not going to immediately punch you in the face with guitar riffs, like Just Got To Be or Set You Free, but what The Black Keys have created is probably the most complete soul/rock album of 2011.