It behooves us to take 90 seconds here and figure out how this band got so popular and enduring. The Black Keys were born in the teeth of the early-aughts "Rock Is Back!" movement, wherein a cadre of uncouth garage-y bands all named The ______s saved us from the terrorists and/or the Backstreet Boys. Eventual result: deserved ignominy (the Vines), undeserved ignominy (the Hives), bewildered near-implosion (the Strokes), and bewildering total implosion (the White Stripes). The years have not been kind.
You didn't figure the Keys as sole survivors and mainstream lifers when The Big Come Upemerged in 2002 and offered a walking rockist orgasm: two gawky white dudes from Akron, Ohio, drums and surly guitar and burning-oatmeal-mouthed yawps of not terribly articulate romantic frustration, all powering cartoonishly virile garage-blues jams of prison-phone-call fidelity and sentiment. Ridiculous and kind of awesome. (This assumes racially uneasy cultural appropriation is no longer an issue for you, but if so, feel free to evoke the Blueshammer scene in the Ghost World movie and the hell with it.)
And so. They named their second album Thickfreakness; they recorded their third album in an abandoned tire factory and named it Rubber Factory. For a while there, they always did confoundingly well in critics' polls, as though they were every single rock scribe's seventh-favorite band. They evolved incredibly slowly-- you can enjoy their early work tremendously and never retain five consecutive seconds of it beyond their cover of "Have Love Will Travel".Danger Mouse got involved as a producer, to the immediately evident benefit of no one. Coupla daffy side projects in there somewhere. (BlakRoc!) Ah yes, and they got their music ina shitload of ads, from Victoria's Secret to Zales to American Express to Subaru, like just so much capitalism, to the extent that they went onThe Colbert Report with Vampire Weekendand clowned themselves about it.
By which time they'd broken through. Last year's Brothers, their sixth album, had wit and pop charm and a minor hit in "Tighten Up" (and unremitting bloat, but ah), and thus came theSpin cover, the Saturday Night Live appearances, the Grammys. And now we greet El Camino, their best and (not coincidentally) goofiest album, a veritable frat-worthy "Pimp 'n' Ho" party in which T. Rex has somehow been tricked into serving as house band. The riffs are glam-nasty, the lyrics sublimely knuckleheaded, the basslines nimble and bombastic, the mood frivolous and fun and unabashedly corny. It's way shorter than Brothers, too. Sweet cars, witchy women, "Gold on the Ceiling." A bizarre attempt to philosophically combine the videos for "Sabotage" and "Legs". The fine line between a tricked-out GTO and "GTFO."
Danger Mouse figured it out, for one thing. He unnecessarily arted up 2008's Attack & Release (plus the hit off Brothers), and his angelic-choir/space-glockenspiel Super Mario Galaxy fantasias still distract-- everything's a goddamn spaghetti western with this guy. ButCamino's sonic frills are mercifully few, content to stick your head right in Patrick Carney's bass drum as he stomps through the caveman jam "Hell of a Season" with virtuosic anti-virtuosity, or revel in the machine-gun surge of Dan Auerbach's gong-banging guitar on surging opener "Lonely Boy". It's a shame Rock Band is no longer a thing. "Gold on the Ceiling" is just filthy, like George Thorogood scoring porn, all raunchy organ and licentious handclaps and chorus help from ladies attempting to sound like the sorts of ladies Steely Dan loved to write songs about. "I wanna buy some time/ But don't have a dime," goes the raucous one called "Money Maker". Better cash some Subaru checks.
The lyrics! The lyrics are hilarious. Great advice, via Brothers: "Well, you can watch her strut/ But keep your mouth shut." God bless Auerbach for ignoring it, and, amid the keening/crunching stomp of "Run Right Back", dropping some serious knowledge: "Well she's a special thing/ She doesn't read too much, oh/ But there's no doubt/ She's written about." Which is really just a prelude to the miraculous five-word sequence that is "Finest exterior/ She's so superior," which, Jesus. Show me the CARFAX, Romeo. Your emotional climax is "Little Black Submarines", which starts acoustic and pathos-ridden: "A broken heart is blind," goes the biologically suspect refrain. But then, hosanna, the distortion kicks in, the riff from "Mary Jane's Last Dance" is lifted wholesale, and suddenly we are rocking, Carney and Auerbach in call-and-response/attack-and-release napalm mode, back in the rubber factory in spirit if not tax bracket.
Yes, well. Consider El Camino the aural equivalent of one of those Chrysler "Imported from Detroit" ads where a $47,000 car slowly rolls through one of the most devastated cities in America, a sign for 8 Mile Road glimpsed through tinted windows: the finest in luxury grit. Seedy, escapist camp, crass but expert, so expert. That they're the true victors of the 2000s garage explosion is no shock at all. Rock came back. Commerce never left.
The Black Keys will embark on the first leg of their U.S. tour this March, with shows in arenas such as New York’s Madison Square Garden, Boston’s TD Garden, and Chicago’s United Center (details on next page), with special guests Arctic Monkeys opening. The shows are in support of The Black Keys’ new album, El Camino, due out December 6 on Nonesuch Records. In advance of the release, five tracks from the record are currently streaming on the band’s web site. El Camino is available for pre-order at www.theblackkeys.com, www.nonesuch.com, and iTunes, with an instant download of the single “Lonely Boy” included. Concert ticket and album packages are available at the band’s site. Additionally, The Black Keys are teaming up with Tickets-for-Charity to offer fans access to some of the best seats in the house. Proceeds will benefit Community Support Services in Akron, OH and W.O. Smith Music School in Nashville, TN.
In anticipation of the release, the duo will join Steve Buscemi on tomorrow’s episode of Saturday Night Live. This is the band’s second time this year as musical guests on the show, a “rare distinction,” says Rolling Stone. Other television appearances next week include The Colbert Report on December 6 and the Late Show with David Letterman on December 7. Moreover, the band is being featured on several MTV programs, including the week-long series Road to Release: The Black Keys, an interview with Matt Pinfield on MTV2’s 120 Minutes, and a live stream of their album release show at New York’s Webster Hall on December 5 exclusively on MTV Hive.
Produced by Danger Mouse and The Black Keys, El Camino was recorded in the band’s new hometown of Nashville during the spring of 2011. In advance of the release, the album’s first single, “Lonely Boy,” was released October 26, to acclaim from fans and press; the song has been climbing the radio charts rapidly and is rising toward #1 on the Alternative and AAA charts. Additionally, the accompanying video has been viewed nearly three million times on YouTube. See below for complete El Camino track list.
Describing the sound of the album, drummer Patrick Carney tells Rolling Stone, “Every record, we figure out the mood and stick with that. With Brothers, we were listening to a lot of hip-hop and old R&B and drawing from that. This is the first record we’ve made where it’s all rock & roll.” And in an interview with Spin Magazine Auerbach says, “I’ve never been into guitar solos. I really like when every instrument in the band is a rhythm instrument. This record has a lot of that going on—guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards all working together as a rhythm instrument. But unlike Brothers, which has more of these slower songs with an open feeling, [the new LP] is definitely fast.”
El Camino follows the most successful two years in The Black Keys’ career. In May 2010 they released their breakthrough album, Brothers. Debuting at #2 in the U.S., it went on to win three Grammy Awards and an MTV Video Music Award, and topped numerous year-end lists, including iTunes, NPR, and Rolling Stone. Brothers, which included the hit singles “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ for You,” has been certified Gold in the U.S. and U.K., and Platinum in Canada. Worldwide sales are now over one million and counting.
The Black Keys—Akron, OH natives Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney—released their debut album, The Big Come Up, in 2002, followed by Thickfreakness (2003) and Rubber Factory (2004). In 2006 they signed to Nonesuch Records in the U.S. and released their fourth album, Magic Potion, which was followed by the Danger Mouse-produced Attack & Release in 2008. El Camino is the first Black Keys album Nonesuch will release worldwide.
1. Lonely Boy
2. Dead and Gone
3. Gold on the Ceiling
4. Little Black Submarines
5. Money Maker
6. Run Right Back
8. Hell of a Season
9. Stop Stop
10. Nova Baby
11. Mind Eraser
THE BLACK KEYS TOUR DATES
December 5 New York, NY Webster Hall
December 11 Los Angeles, CA KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas
March 2 * Cincinnati, OH US Bank Arena
March 3 * Detroit, MI Joe Louis Arena
March 4 * Columbus, OH Jerome Schottenstein Center
March 6 * Portland, ME Cumberland Co. Civic Center
March 7 * Boston, MA TD Garden
March 9 * Washington, DC Verizon Center
March 10 * Philadelphia, PA Wells Fargo Center
March 12 * New York, NY Madison Square Garden Arena
March 13 * Montreal, QC Bell Centre
March 14 * Toronto, ON Air Canada Centre
March 16 * Indianapolis, IN Conseco Fieldhouse
March 18 * Grand Rapids, MI Van Andel Arena
March 19 * Chicago, IL United Center
March 20 * Cleveland, OH Quicken Loans Arena
March 23 * Norfolk, VA Constant Convocation Center
The Black Keys stopped by the Colbert Report. Host Stephen Colbert pulled out his usual absurd questions but the Keys were willing to oblige with their responses. The band also performed their single “Lonely Boy” off of their just released album El Camino.