It was a risky move considering the backlash that followed Attack & Release, the Keys 2008 album that many accused Burton of overproducing. I personally found his finer touches (like the banjo and piano-plinking on the drawly Psychotic Girl) more dramatic and fun, a refreshing departure from the rust belt-blues shtick theyd worked from the early to mid-2000s on excellent rock records like Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory.
El Camino sounds like somebody convinced Burton to throw his tie out the window and embrace the campy bombast of Brothers, the bands commercial breakthrough (they nabbed a Grammy and have recently announced a string of convention-center/arena dates).
That over-the-top silliness comes through on El Camino much differently than Brothers, however, mostly in big-time lyrical hooks (see the ineffable charisma of Gold on the Ceiling and album opener Lonely Boy) and the absolute biggest-sounding, arena-ready blasts of prog-rock riffage Dan Auerbachs guitar has ever produced.
Carneys drum pounding is distinct, too, crashing through on the climax of Little Black Submarines, filling in the gaps left by Auerbachs primal guitar solos. In the past, hes been happily willing to create steady-handed (and still awesome) propulsive forces for songs like Brothers and Howlin for You, so its good to hear him flexing a bit of his well-developed rhythmic muscle.
Nova Baby is a weird little standout near the end of El Camino; itd qualify as a synth-pop song if it werent for the guitar riff thats competing for sonic real estate. I think it helped me to realize that Im not especially wild about that synthesizer when its not helping the band to sound like its scoring some demented, three-ring circus.
With a lot of the early-2000s blues-influenced rock bands now either defunct (The White Stripes) or out of the critical spotlight (The Strokes), The Black Keys appear to be poised for a lucrative, exciting 2012. And I appear to be poised to embarrass myself pretending to play air-guitar solos on my home from work this afternoon.