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The Black Keys

El Camino (Nonesuch)

Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Dec. 30, 2011

Phases & Stages

The Black Keys

El Camino (Nonesuch)

With last year's Brothers, the Black Keys achieved overnight success a decade in the making. Breakthrough hit "Tighten Up" led to more commercial exposure than a season of Mad Men, not to mention appearances on Austin City Limits and Saturday Night Live. Quickie follow-up El Camino essentially offers a full-length extension of that single, with 11 tracks co-written and produced by Brian Burton (Danger Mouse). Unlike Attack & Release, the former Akron, Ohio, and now Nashville, Tenn., duo's transformative collaboration from 2008, however, the band's seventh LP comes ribbed for instant gratification, a full-band affair with 1970s glam ("Gold on the Ceiling"), throbbing swagger (the standout "Dead and Gone"), and eerie pop undertones (the electric disco "Sister"). In other words, guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have cut a Gnarls Barkley album – bombastic, lopsided, and lacking the grimy appeal of early basement classics Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory. For every golden moment, like the warped-Western shake appeal of "Run Right Back" and border-town juke-jointer "Lonely Boy," there's a missed connection, most notably "Little Black Submarines," a "Stairway to Heaven" moment that falls a few stories short. As such, El Camino might be the weakest Black Keys album since 2006's Magic Potion, but the band certainly earned this celebratory joy ride.

**

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