The Black Keys Review: El Camino

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The newest album by the Black Keys (Dan Auerbach – lead guitar and vocals, Patrick Carney – drums) features an old van on the cover.  “El camino” means “the van” in Spanish.  The album has nothing to do with the obscure 1977 drive-in T&A movie The Van starring, among others, Danny DeVito.  Or does it?

The album’s opening track, “Lonely Boy,” is about a guy who is just that.  He pines for a woman who keeps him waiting for any kind of love or attention, but he just can’t seem to get it.  In The Van, Bobby (played by Emmy Award-winning Stuart Goetz) is a lonely, horny teen who just can’t make it with Sally (played by Connie Hoffman) or any of the girls.  His chances of landing a hot girl may as well be “Dead and Gone,” as preached by Auerbach while a gospel choir chants along with him.  Carney knocks out a driving beat punctuated with handclaps from the choir.

The album’s third track, “Gold on the Ceiling,” could be a reflection of Bobby’s idea to buy and trick out a hot racing van / shaggin’ wagon in order to impress the ladies.  The track sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom, and I mean that as the best compliment it can be.  Auerbach’s vocals are ethereal and his guitar shreds on it.  You can envision the smile on Carney’s face when he laid down the drum track for this tune about people trying to get their hands on Auerbach’s riches – much like how everyone wants to get their hands on Bobby’s sweet van once it starts winning some of the local races.

Okay, I’ll admit that linking the beautiful blues song “Little Black Submarines” to a 1977 B-movie about a kid racing a Dodge B200 Tradesman is a stretch; but Auerbach’s electric guitar and Carney’s wallop-you-upside-the-head drums kicking in around the two-minute mark could remind you of Bobby blasting off the line during his first race!

Bobby’s van does indeed turn out to be a “Money Maker,” since he uses the winnings from his races to pay for his van’s customization (by George Barris, for heaven’s sake!).  Auerbach sings about a woman who will take your money and break you, and he does it with such conviction that you have to wonder if he’s speaking from personal experience.  The song also features “golden throat” guitar effects that were wildly popular in 1977 and still awesome today.

In “Run Right Back,” Auerbach sings about a woman who is “the worst thing [he’s] been addicted to,” yet he keeps going back – just like Bobby keeps going back to the street races!  This track also has one of the best fade-outs I’ve heard in a long while.

“Sister” is a track (with a wicked, head-nodding beat by Carney) about a looming break-up that Auerbach tries to justify by laying all the blame at his lover’s feet.  Bobby, of course, still has lady troubles even with his bad-ass van and race victories.

You want more similarities to the Black Keys’ new record and The Van?  Sure!  Bobby’s wild summer of racing is a “Hell of a Season” (in which Auerbach pleads with a girl, possibly the one he jilted on the previous track, to give him a reason to stay), the cops are always trying to get Bobby and his fellow racers to “Stop Stop” (which sounds like it could’ve been stolen from a 1977 master tape in Frank Zappa’s studio), Bobby’s van goes so fast it’s, like, “Nova Baby,” and as for the album’s final track, “Mind Eraser,” well…there’s plenty of weed blown in the movie.

Yes, I realize how goofy this review is, but the point is that the Black Keys have created a record that embraces 1970’s blues, gospel, soul, arena rock, and psychedelic fuzz grooves.  El Camino is a good name for the record because the Black Keys have packed a lot into it.

~Nik Havert

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Nik Havert is a writer, DJ, harmonica player, martial arts instructor, comic book publisher, crime fighter,music lover, cult movie enthusiast, and modern day Renaissance man.  He hopes to shark cage dive sometime in the next few years and enjoys travel and good natural root beer.

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