Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Back Keys – El Camino (Album Review)

by Mika Kallio

The Black Keys are making it ever harder to be snob. When the White Stripes became too popular for any of the “cool kids” to dig, the Black Keys were the obvious alternative. From Akron, Ohio, the band has already incurred the wrath of Jack White for the similarities of name and source of inspiration (blues rock), but they were writing and playing more authentic blues songs (with a rusty industrial town sound) than The White Stripes, and had no apparent aspirations to be trendy or even to avoid looking decidedly nerdy. Now these guys were never going to be popular or even fashionable, were they? 2012 and seven years on the Black Keys are winning awards, having records high in the charts and even headlining large open air festivals on both sides of the Atlantic.

Their latest album “El Camino” was released in December 2011, and with it the band continues from where they left off with their previous record ‘Brothers’ (2010) as far as both the commercial success and evolution of style are concerned. The blues roots are still recognisable but only just, and this album sees the two piece (guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney) joined by Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse).

Describing or categorising music is always difficult and most of the time unfair to the artists, and this is particularly true about ‘El Camino’. However, I would still suggest that the record is 2010’s power pop, with strong rhythm, sweet backing vocals and some catchier than flu bug melodies.

The album opens with ‘Lonely Boy’ (also the first single) and which had already been made famous by the brilliantly simplistic video available in YouTube. According to Auerbach the song was inspired by the classic ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’’ (the Johnny Burnette version) and while in my opinion there’s not that much of a similarity between the two songs, it is easy to agree on ‘train’ and ‘rolling’ in an etymological sense. The vocals on ‘Little Black Submarine’ - the fourth song on the album - reminded me of ‘Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood’ as well as of ‘Your Southern Can Is Mine’ (White Stripes), which probably explains less about the song than of the difficulties to describe it. ‘Gold on the Ceiling’ and ‘Run Right Back’ for some reason sparks memories of 1970’s Top of the Pops shows, but generally the mood of the record is quite melancholy (especially ‘Sister’, ‘Hell of a Season’ and ‘Nova Baby’), which after all is possibly the natural direction in evolution from blues.

The band will now probably spend the rest of 2012 on tours worldwide, and will be playing for the first time in Helsinki this August. After that they will inevitably be facing the pressures of expectations for their next record - after two hugely successful albums – but there is a feeling the Black Keys could still be good for a surprise or three in the future.

Follow Mika: @RedHillR

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