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The Black Keys look to sustain an arena fanbase with ‘El Camino’

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The Black Keys’ new album is almost as good as drummer Patrick Carney’s face when he plays live.
Photo: Bill Hughes
Annie Zaleski

The Details

The Black Keys
El Camino
Three and a half stars

Last week, The Black Keys announced a spring tour of the U.S. that will take them to New York’s Madison Square Garden, Chicago’s Untied Center and Boston’s TD Garden. Yep, The Black Keys are about to start playing arenas.

Time will tell how the Ohio duo actually fares in these huge spaces, but it’s inarguable that their popularity has exploded. Part of that can be attributed to savvy music placement: Their garage- and blues-influenced tunes have appeared in an impressive number of video games, movies and TV shows, which has made their music familiar to mainstream audiences.

But much of The Black Keys’ burgeoning appeal stems from their everyman personas. Their lyrics address hard times and love gone wrong in concise, straightforward terms, with little regard for sentimentality. Plus, vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney look like—and come across as—regular dudes, the type you might see at a bar pounding back beers during football season. They aren’t untouchable rock stars polished by fame; they’re two guys from blue-collar Akron, with a knack for tapping into masculine emotions.

The band’s new album, El Camino, doesn’t stray far from the Keys’ established thematic formula, although it is a musical leap forward. Co-produced by Danger Mouse, the record is quite danceable and much more indebted to classic rock, from the white-hot, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers-y, guitar solo cutting through “Little Black Submarines” to the hefty stoner-rocker “Gold on the Ceiling” to the psychedelic, talk-boxing “Money Maker.” More important, El Camino finds Auerbach and Carney pushing into new sonic territory: “Stop Stop” has Motown flair in its rhythms and falsetto vocals, while “Lonely Boy” features a surf-garage twist.

Although it’s not quite as primal or raw as some of The Black Keys past releases, the new album is definitely calibrated for maximum accessibility. And while that could alienate longtime fans, it should help the band fill more seats along its apparent path to stadium superstardom.

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