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More than a decade into their career, the Black Keys have unexpectedly become the mainstream torchbearers for purist rock and roll. In 2010, with R&B and hip-hop dominating the pop charts, the duo’s breakout Brothers sold a million copies, sent them to Saturday Night Live twice, won them their first three Grammys and propelled them from modest bar shows to full-scale theatres and arenas.
That likely brought the weight of expectation to their much-anticipated follow-up, but El Camino doesn’t bear the strain of excess pressure. Produced by Danger Mouse in singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach’s new Nashville studio, the disc finds the duo amping up their raw, minimalist blues-rock template with touches of soul, R&B and, more than ever, 70s arena rock (see Stairway To Heavenesque Little Black Submarines). They’ve sped up the tempos but still focus on hooks, both vocally and instrumentally. Maybe their tightest, most replayable album yet, El Camino isn’t likely to send the Black Keys back into obscurity.
Top track: Lonely Boy