The Black Keys
EMI, Rs 295
The chances are extremely high that Stephen Hawking, not known for his ability to break out into a jig, will get up and dance to the fist track on the new Black Keys' album, El Camino. The feedback start to ‘Lonely boy crawls into a bad-ass riff that breaks out into a Tijuana party. But then, as our knees knock against each other and toes start jigging by their own, the two-member Ohio band takes off on a majestic chorus: "Oh oh-oh-oh/ I got a love that keeps me waiting/ Oh, oh-oh-oh/ I got a love that keeps me waiting/ I'm a lonely boy/ I'm a lonely boy." There aren't that many rock songs you can dance to even as your skin breaks into goosebumps. There's that innocence in this blistering track that's not unlike the first time you wore leather or got dumped by a girl.
The judder arrives in 'Dead and gone' where singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach picks up the octave with a choral bunch to back him up while drummer Patrick Carney keeps the spine of the song strong. And it's also the presence of producer-musical genius Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse that is palpable throughout the album. It's his trademark glue of rock'n'soulish melody that keeps popping its head into the foreground in El Camino.
The heavy Marc Bolan-style guitar'n'drums stomp in 'Gold on the ceiling' is accompanied by phat keyboards pressing out not so much notes as much as gas. The 70s crash open in earnest by the time we reach the chorus, half-disco, half-glam rock that reminds me of the likes of glitter rock-pop bands like Goldfrapp. And don't forget to shake your hips and head while clapping in that dirty little chorus that smiles back at you.
Just when you thought a T Rex redux was what you needed, we have the fragile acoustic-accompanied voice of Dan singing 'Little black submarines'. More than 'Stairway to heaven', we are reminded of Jack White. And sure enough, two minutes into the four minutes-long song, when the boosters kick in and in White Stripes-style the till-now innocuous log cabin melody turns heavy with a blizzard of drums and guitars as Dan's voice picks up the mustard that was always there by his side.
The rock rolls in 'Money maker', a brakes-and-accelarator track that the Kinks' would have approved thoroughly. The dreamy echo thing gives way to the pounding that follows. Bang in the middle of the album lies 'Run right back', which kind of forms a curtain between the hardcore and the more melody-guided tracks that follow. 'Sister' has a funk soul brother heart. Perhaps the idea is to try out different sounds and, even at the risk of sounding incongruous on this album, it works as a single.
'Hell of a season' continues as a mood, not so much as a track, while 'Stop stop' has a whole lot of shimmying going on. (Think of girl with a mini and an Afro jiving away in the corner.) 'Nova baby', with the guitar thwacks and build-up, returns more to the early part of the album, but doesn't quite pack the punch that we expect by now from the band. The last number on the track 'Mind eraser' is the rattlesnake in the desert, shaking the album to an end.
El Camino has wicked songs and songs that want to be wicked. It should be statutory law to hear the first half of this album on max volume. The second half you can get up and have dinner. But by then, you've already developed an appetite for the Black Keys.