James A. Robins takes a look at the treatment of two-piece bands and how the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have broken away from the ilk of early 2000s rock.
You would be hard-pressed to start talking about the Black Keys without mentioning the myriad of other groups of their breed that popped up in the early 2000s. And if you fail to name-drop The Flat Duo Jets, then your insights can only be passed off as second-hand ramblings. The North Carolina twosome stand as a template of sorts, and each of those slimmed-down, 12-bar bands that came after owe a huge amount of respect to their rattling ways. The Jets pioneered and refined the very reason as to why these two-pieces work, but just like most other talents that can come so naturally, the aspect that binds successful duos together is nigh-on intangible. Each of them possesses a connection between members – that strange, quasitelepathic livewire that runs between two people on stage. It’s always made for incredible viewing in a live environment, but it’s never transferred as well on record as it has for The Black Keys. It also stands as an odd testament to longevity, that although Meg and Jack White had their extensive success based upon solid songs, The Black Keys’ existence seems to revolve around good songs and good business: tracks spanning their ten year tenure have been in everything, from commercials to video games to television shows, yet somehow the band have managed to retain their integrity – at all costs, it seems – and their definitive creative spark. Thankfully now, what we’re presented with is a band confident in their stride, holding dearly on to the self-effacing element that was missing from a lot of their ilk nearly a decade ago. Records like these, coming along so far down the track, could so easily descend in to flagrant waffle, yet El Camino is their brightest, catchiest, and easily most punishing record to date.
Dangermouse clambers aboard for the third time running, and his input should never be overlooked here. The man who gave The Rapture’s Pieces Of The People We Love its crisp and finished edge, and who blended the organic with the electronic so adeptly on two Broken Bells albums again returns to aid Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney after the stomp of Attack & Release and the soul-inflected game-changer that was Brothers. Both percussion and crunching guitars are squeezed to the front amid organs, doses of docile piano, and shimmering tambourine, and it only reinforces where The Black Keys came from; this is a band who can fucking play, regardless of how many members it has. There’s the usual Keys trademark bruised stomp, found amongst incendiary opener and leading single ‘Lonely Boy’ and the soulful squeal of ‘Run Right Back’, whilst ‘Money Maker’ takes a stab at an all-out aural assault, deviating from the usual groove and beat-based fare, and ‘Nova Baby’ exists as their greatest take on the uplifting and euphoric. El Camino comes in a solid four songs shorter than its predecessor, dispensing with the more tender affectations that Brothers possessed, and it’s all the better for it. Mind you, nuance can always be traded in for sheer firepower, if this is the end result. Here, Auerbach and Carney are having fun, just like The Flat Duo Jets used to, returning to their barnstorming roots, yet still pressing further forward in to a more mature sound that allows them to boom and resonate far louder than they have done before.
WRITTEN BY JAMES A. ROBINS ALBUM OUT NOW: BLACK KEYS- EL CAMINO