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Album Review - The Black Keys: "El Camino"
A hallmark of a truly transcendent blues rock album is the absurd ease with which it hijacks the limbic system of the brain, an enterprise triumphantly undertaken in the album, El Camino, by The Black Keys. Co-produced by Danger Mouse, one-half of the duo Gnarls Barkley, El Camino boasts 11 robust tracks, each capable of declaring temporary dominion over your emotions, and eventually, your soul. In this album, you’ll champion the cause of a jilted lover while under the spell of what may well be considered one of the most badass soundtracks of all time for the ruefully broken-hearted.
It’s important to note the seemingly purposeful orchestration in the order of these songs. Yes, the tracks are still captivating when played in shuffle mode, but are doubly effective when the album is played from start to finish. The songs seem to work in succession to unravel the tale of a hellish romance. While this theme is not uncommon in the realm of blues, The Black Keys exert their distinct lyrical & musical prowess to make each track unforgettable. “Lonely Boy” & “Dead and Gone” are adrenaline-pumping openers whose emotional electric guitar & energetic percussion support agony-ridden vocals in depicting a lover experiencing an inner battle between defiance & unconditional surrender to his abusive counterpart. In “Hell of a Season”, reflective lyrics illustrate the once helpless lover growing empowered to challenge his aggressor. This heralds an optimism audible in the musical progression of succeeding tracks. The change in mood is executed so subtly in the music & lyrics that it’s a pleasant surprise when illuminated into consciousness.
The album concludes with “Mind Eraser”, the most haunting of the 11 songs. Its introductory guitar riffs alone set it apart as the definitive finisher of El Camino’s rollercoaster love story. The vocals & electric guitar ache as they express a hollow victory forged from emotional bloodshed. The song sets such a beautifully melancholy tone that begs you to put the album on repeat just to feel the rush again, which you were probably going to do anyway.
The Black Keys present a soulful marriage of rock & blues that is so powerful it’s impossible to tell which of the musical styles seduced the other to abandon its innocuous solitary state & form a music revelation. Whatever the sorcerous origin, The Black Keys have successfully harnessed its energy & channeled it into an album worthy of study. The school of blues rock awaits. It wants you to grab a badass pair of sunglasses & your trusty air guitar (or invisible drums, if you prefer), & cruise down Route 66 in The Black Keys’ El Camino.