From 2002 through 2012, I had the most difficult time trying to stay abreast of all the changes that were happening in music. During this time, I had undergone around eight surgical procedures, as well as countless other invasive procedures, all in the hopes that the persistent high level of structural pain and constant, never-ending back spasms would be cured, or at least reduced to a level through which I could work. Unfortunately, nothing really worked. Out of everything that was done, perhaps the most interesting was having a device attached to my back in order for the device to translate the back spasms into sound waves. Unfortunately for me, I set that practice’s record for the loudest soundwaves ever recorded. Normally, you crank the device up to a 8 or 9 level in order to hear the spasms. Mine were so intense that they damn near pegged the needle, and the doctor had to turn down the sound to a more soothing level 2. So, yes, I am in pain. I don’t really like to talk about it, but at least you may understand why I have spent much of the years since my retirement in 2012 playing catch-up with music, focused mainly on the 21st century releases.
Back in 2008, I was scrolling through iTunes, just sampling some new music by artists of whom I had never heard. I remember at the time being into the White Stripes, absolutely digging their two-person take on the blues and punk in order to create something totally new and fresh. But, by 2008, the Stripes were no longer recording new music, so I was undergoing so withdrawal. Somehow, and I really do not remain how it happened (I did not have my meds totally under control at this time, I stumbled across the name of a band called The Black Keys and discovered that, like the White Stripes, this band was a duo consisting of a guitarist and a drummer. Intrigued, I looked up The Black Keys latest release, Attack & Release.
I was immediately taken with the band’s new interpretation of blues-based rock music. Yes, The Black Keys employed the same minimalist instrumentation as the White Stripes, but, in all honesty, that’s where the similarities ended. The White Stripes, being from Detroit, would pick up where the MC5’s vision of the blues and punk left off. And, the Stripes took their music into some beautifully decadent places, as if The Stooges and Led Zeppelin had a child and name him Jack White. The White Stripes created some of the most exciting music of the first decade of the new century, but by 2008, the Stripes had quietly ended the duo’s creative relationship, which actually outlasted the pair’s marriage by a few years. We all now follow Jack White’s process as he continues to record, but his former wife and drummer, Meg White, has left behind the music industry.
So, when I first listened to The Black Keys, I was blown away by their fresh take on the blues within the context of rock music. If anyone deserve the albatross of “The Next Led Zeppelin” label, it was Akron, Ohio’s very own The Black Keys. Now, while Attack & Release was a fine album, I was not prepared for the growth the band showed over the next two albums, Brothers in 2010 and, my personal favorite, 2011’s El Camino.
The great music reference website, AllMusic, may list Brothers as their pick for the band’s best album, along with an earlier released entitled Rubber Factory, and another great music reviewing website, Metacritic, chose El Camino as their favorite album by The Black Keys, you cannot go wrong with either album. And, you can throw in their latest album, Turn Blue from 2014, into the mix, but, for my money, El Camino is the album where everything The Black Keys were trying to do in the past could now be done in the studio. In my mind, El Camino is the band’s finest artistic statement so far in their relatively young career.
Let’s face it! El Camino is simply a kick-ass album, something that sounds like a 60s/70s throwback with all the production work of a currently recorded album. Simply put, El Camino shows that rock music is alive and well in 2011 and beyond. Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, with production and odd instrumentation help from Danger Mouse, have made the finest rock album in the 2010s, and should definitely be held in high enough regards to land somewhere in Rolling Stone’s next Top 500 Albums of All Time list in the future.
El Camino kicks off with the Modern Rock and Rock Number One Hit “Lonely Boy”, a song that the Rolling Stones wished they had written at any point in their career. This is a rocker that fits seamlessly on Classic Rock radio without the Boomers getting their panties in a wad because they heard something new and fresh. By the time the album gets to its best song, “Gold on the Ceiling”, a song made to be played at sporting events if there ever was one written especially for such an event, El Camino is blasting through any possible Stones/Zeppelin/J. Geils Band comparisons as they make this album totally their own.
This album represents a newer band with enough talent and vision to transcend the time-space continuum and create timeless rock music for the ages. El Camino is the album where The Black Keys become part of the definition of rock music. If you decide to give the band’s earlier albums a try, you will here the foundation being laid for this album, while the one follow-up The Black Keys have released, Turning Blue, shows the band seated upon the throne as the best current band in rock music, a position once held by the likes of The Beatles, Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Clash, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and now, The Black Keys.
See? Rock is alive and well in the 21st century.