You can take the band out of the garage, but you can't take the garage out of the band. That's the message behind the Black Keys' awesomely down-and-dirty seventh album, which caps off a stellar year that found the Ohio blues-rock duo winning three Grammys for their 2010 breakthrough, Brothers, and fielding offers from Robert Plant to play bass for the band.
At a time like this, guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney might be forgiven for trading their minimalist sound for something a little more, well, maximum. Instead, they've teamed up with longtime producer Danger Mouse to do what they do best: make a small-room racket that sounds massive enough for a bigger-is-better world.
El Camino trades the soulful stylings of Brothers for harder-driving, faster-riffing rock & roll: Opener ''Lonely Boy'' is all quick-shimmying drums and raunchy guitars; ''Gold on the Ceiling,'' with its swarm-of-bees organs and acid-trip gospel harmonies, could be a lost Nuggets gem. The best surprise, though, is edge-of-sanity epic ''Little Black Submarines,'' a crate-digger thriller that starts as a quiet acoustic hymn, then explodes. They don't make vintage folk-rock heavy metal like they used to if they ever used to. And that's a very good thing. A-