decayed and overgrown bridges secured only to our faith and loose threads. They are our hope that the rickety board the camera captures won’t dramatically give in a frugal twist of fate. They put our lives in boxes, freeze our Facebook timelines and transform god-knows-how-old cheese bags into excuses for dinner.
In the bottleneck of transformation there’s only inertia – white-knuckled acceleration toward a goal you’re not even certain you’ll attain. The other side of the tunnel could yield traffic, open road or expose fault in your directions. It may reveal paradise or total failure. You may end up safe and comfortable or at a motel watching dry lightning percolate in the heavens.
It’s hard to say exactly when The Black Keys became your mom’s favorite band. They went through the transition so quickly, rising from cool, underground college band, to that group who can play a mid-tier Bonnaroo set, to a commodity that moved t-shirts to high school kids, all in what seemed like a few months.
Today, you can’t order a decent quesadilla without somehow being reminded of them.
Five years later, its the kind of disc that can feel underappreciated. All of its tunes lag behind the entirety of “Brothers” on Spotify, and if “El Camino” was available in full there, it’s likely these songs would hardly be noticeable among the band’s popular work. Later albums found them filling the void Kings of Leon were too boozy and road-weary to nest in, but here they aimed for the perch AC/DC had long retired from – the role of riff-rock FM radio staples.
The hat goes off here to third man, Danger Mouse, who shepherded them through the darkness, adding gospel croons to songs like “Lies” and raindrop patters to “Remember When,” opening up the two-man-band format The White Stripes pioneered in the process. “Same Old Thing” is another great example, a roughneck standard colored with caveman grunts and flutes that really excavate rock’s past, seemingly nodding to Jethro Tull’s “Bungle in the Jungle.”
With these efforts, Danger Mouse proved the Keys could be more than a bar band with prowess in the studio – maybe even to the band members themselves – and elevated himself to must-have righthand studio man for rock ‘n’ roll hopefuls.
What’s more impressive is that these textures don’t distract from Dan Auerbach’s blues-bred drawl or rusty guitar. Rather, they’re an almost seemless additive to the template, one that smoothed the garage stomp and brawl that – let’s face it – was a dime-a-dozen commodity at the time.
By converging neo-soul with whiskey-barrel rock, The Black Keys crossed barriers in a classic southern manner, taking the General Lee out of the garage to test it’s wings.
This album is the car hanging in mid-air over the factory-laden heartland, the band members’ hair whipping as the steering wheel assesses their cuticle growth. Their faces locked in the attack, unsure if the marks would stay and the release of a safe landing would come.
Pete Rizzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.