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The Black Keys - Magnificent seven
on 5 December 2011
It's a Black Keys album and you pretty much know what your going to get. This is the seventh outing from the great Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach. They work in what is somewhat restricted musical seam yet they seem to manage to squeeze every ounce of funky blues and soul base metal from its core and add their own little discoveries. It all adds up to a quality product but one in "El Camino" which adds a bit more grease and motor oil to the usual mix creating what is one of their best hard rocking blues barrages in sometime in contrast to the more laidback "Brothers" album. Equally the bands honorary third member Dangermouse (Brian Joseph Burton) is at the control desk again and has decided to place a welcome emphasis on the pop hooks in these 11 great songs and for once the bass player gets a proper look in.
It all kicks off with two thumpers the overpowering "Lonely boy" and the brilliant "Dead and gone". It all sounds effortless with the former containing a killer sing-along chorus and a pounding fuzzy riff while the latter contains .......ahem, a killer sing-along chorus and pounding fuzzy riff! A great start and the foot is barely taken off the gas with the glam rock of "Gold on the ceiling" which you can almost visualise the great Marc Bolan singing in the heyday of T Rex. The pace cools for the initially acoustic "Little black submarines" gently sung by Auerbach but breaks out into a massive electric beast halfway through with a riff that does echo Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's last dance". It's a real standout track and followed by keepers like "Money maker" and the funky "Run right back". The track "Sister" sounds like one of those classic tracks built for FM rock radio which you imagine that Paul Rodgers could happily cover. It could easily be a single although there is plenty of competition, while the soulful "Hell of a season" might just be the best track on the album. The final three tracks are the "Stop Stop" a sort of mix of Stax soul and garage rock, the incredibly commercial belter that is "Nova Baby" where Auerbach blues-tinged vocals are at their absolute best and the concluding song "Mind eraser" which would have happily sat on "Attack and release".
Granted there is little new ground broken here and "El Camino" is a not a demanding listen. You could also argue that the explorations and R&B excursions of "Brothers" have been firmly contained in a framework which represents a souped up version of their earlier work. But whose complaining? It's the Black Keys offering up a great rock album sardine packed with top notch songs. After a number of listens "El Camino" reveals itself as a fresh, exhilarating and occasionally an almost glam rock orientated album from a band which has proved one of the most enduring of its generation while many of their contemporaries have fallen by the waste side or hysterically imploded. For a band that was often brutally criticized for being the "White Stripes lite" there must be real satisfaction in their ongoing achievement and a modest level of gloating is completely in order.