All the swagger of a half-century of rock 'n' roll in a tight two-man package; seven great albums over roughly as many years; and they swept the 2011 Grammys. Now, I loathe an unadulterated success story as much as the next critic, but it's likely that the Black Keys will never misstep.
OK, so I'm not counting Blackroc, the kind-of "meh" 2009 hip-hop mashups album, but that's only fair. The duo itself, made up of Akron, Ohioans Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, has done everything right since 2002, starting with gritty basement recordings and working its way up to the festival circuit, mainstream television, and eventually to the meta-mainstream Grammy Awards. The music: Black Friday noir. The Black Keys' red-blooded anthems have sold credit cards, automobiles, and lingerie, and their machismo has backed TV shows from FX's Sons of Anarchy to HBO's Hung. So they obviously know how to make money, too.
There's not too much to say about El Camino. It's an apt title — as in, if you take it for enough spins you'll probably love it, all tackiness aside. It's a different kind of album for Carney and Auerbach, though. There are no rough edges. The Zeppelin-via-White Stripes acoustic section of "Little Black Submarines" might come as a surprise, but you'll grow fond of that, too.
And the testosterone is cranked up higher than ever. Granted, these artists have never been remarkable lyricists, and lines like She wants milk and honey/She wants filthy money or She's the worst thing I've been addicted to are neither evocative nor charming. But hey, that's not why you blast it at full volume when you're driving down the strip with your bros. (Nonesuch)