Sound — 7
The Black Keys' sound is a success right from the off; hiring Danger Mouse to take care of production is commercially one of the most exciting things The Black Keys could have done for "El Camino". With names like Danger Mouse involved, The Black Keys have come a long way since their early days spent jamming bluesy rock songs in garages. It's fair to say that the involvement of Danger Mouse on this album preludes The Black Keys' biggest turn to pop music yet. That's not to take anything away from The Black Keys. They retain their quirky style and unique take on emotive songs. "Little Black Submarines" is particularly poignant in this respect; it's cute, dancing melody reliant upon the most minimal of guitar lines. Songs like "Money Maker" retain the bouncy fuzzy guitar riffs that helped to make the band popular, while "Run Right Back" is the sort of song that can turn the mainstream on its head. It's like a hallucinogenic journey, inspired by devilish guitars, sounding like The Clash for the 21st century. For a reggae-infused Black Keys' song, look no further than "Hell Of A Season", the song that won't give up in its subtle attempts to get you moving. It's deceptively bouncy, demanding a relaxed dance to go with it. Meanwhile, "Stop Stop" includes jangly, sharp guitars and a terrifically simple guitar solo after the chorus. This sounds like exactly the kind of song that only The White Stripes could dare to pull off better in this day and age. It's important to reserve special mention for the first track on the album, incidentally the first single from the album: "Lonely Boy". This is the single The Black Keys have threatened to release for a few years now, and I'm glad it's finally here. It is living (yes, I'm ascribing life to this song) proof that you don't need to overdo guitars with distortion to achieve a gritty, mucky, decadent rock n' roll noise. With bouncing bass lines and a terrific guitar solo, this is an excellent choice for a single. But what really stands out is the guitar riff played in a standoff with all the other instruments in the middle of the song. It's almost the most subtle battle musicians have contested among themselves since the 1980s. These songs make for tasteful rock n' roll: brief, beautiful, anything but benign. The Black Keys keep things moving, and you should move with them.
Lyrics — 7
Daniel Quine Auerbach is well-regarded for his vocal capabilities. He doesn't indulge in any unnecessary histrionics, his falsetto is subtle and lithe, and his voice is so far-removed from the perils of stereotype that I can't help but sit back and marvel at just how good a job he performs on this album. Vocally, the chorus of "Stop, Stop" is where Auerbach excels, making the transition from his usual laid back swoon to a falsetto so cool he get away with, well, whatever he wants, really. Lyrically, this is all on the simple side of things, but you won't find yourself singing along to more of any other album next year.
Overall Impression — 8
Overall Impression: It's the collaboration with Danger Mouse that really does it for me. The Black Keys are serious about taking over the mainstream, and you can be sure of the band's status as the next big arena rock band (if that status isn't already in play). It'll be intriguing to witness which of these songs the band next releases as a single. If truth be told, The Black Keys have recorded eleven fine songs, each of which could make a case for being a single. The only problem for The Black Keys is choosing.