Looking for a blues album you can listen to without coming across like a sweaty, bearded man-mountain, who’s just hitched a ride on the back of a freight train somewhere in the American south? Looking for a blues album you can listen to that can actually make you come across as (whisper it) trendy!? Then look no further than El Camino, The Black Keys’ seventh studio album.
Coming across at times like classic Jack White, it’s no wonder the Black Keys have become so popular. But make no mistake, just because these guys are at the sharp end of critical acclaim, doesn’t mean their blues don’t pack a punch. Balls to the wall guitar riffs dirtier than a mud wrestle are rife throughout the record, and, coupled with their driving anthemic choruses, all fears that this is just a trendy fad-band are banished within a few devastating seconds in the opening crunch of Lonely Boy.
What is perhaps most astonishing about this band, is not that they have revived the blues to a whole new generation, but that they can sound so visceral from just two members: the weather beaten vocals and coursing guitar lines of frontman Dan Auerbach, and primeval tub-thumping of bespectacled Patrick Carney. Indeed just looking at the pairing, it’s a wonder that they even know each other at all, looking so vastly different you would sooner expect them to be fighting in the playground than starting a band together.
Despite their unlikely looks, it’s the music that wins over here. The chugging mega-hit Gold on the Ceiling is one of the grooviest tunes in their catalogue with some guitar tones so vintage, it could almost be the great Les Paul himself playing on the record. The accompanying video is devilishly entertaining and proves the duo have a sense of humour too.
It isn’t until Little Black Submarines floats delicately by that the intensity lets up for a breather before it all comes crashing back down for the mother of all endings, behemoth in ferocity but they never lose control of the beast.
Fans of pure delta blues will love it as much as the casual indie or rock follower, and mention influences of Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf to the modern fan and you are likely to get quizzical looks in return. But in reality that doesn’t matter. What is refreshing is that with their contemporaries Jack White, and Seasick Steve, the Black Keys are leading the revolution in a new wave of pure blues for a whole new generation. Who said the blues wasn’t a young man’s game?