Picking up on the ‘60s soul undercurrent of Brothers, the Black Keys smartly capitalize on their 2010 breakthrough by plunging headfirst into retro-soul on El Camino. Savvy operators that they are, the Black Keys don’t opt for authenticity à la Sharon Jones or Eli “Paperboy” Reed: they bring Danger Mouse back into the fold, the producer adding texture and glitter to the duo’s clean, lean songwriting. Apart from “Little Black Submarines,” an acoustic number that crashes into Zeppelin heaviosity as it reaches its coda, every one of the 11 songs here clocks in under four minutes, adding up to a lean 38-minute rock & roll rush, an album that’s the polar opposite of the Black Keys’ previous collaboration with Danger Mouse, the hazy 2008 platter Attack & Release. That purposely drifted into detours, whereas El Camino never takes its eye off the main road: it barrels down the highway, a modern motor in its vintage body. Danger Mouse adds glam flair that doesn’t distract from the songs, all so sturdily built they easily accommodate the shellacked layers of cheap organs, fuzz guitars, talk boxes, backing girls, tambourines, foot stomps, and handclaps. Each element harks back to something from the past -- there are Motown beats and glam rock guitars -- but everything is fractured through a modern prism: the rhythms have swing, but they’re tight enough to illustrate the duo’s allegiance to hip-hop; the gleaming surfaces are postmodern collages, hinting at collective aural memories. All this blurring of eras is in the service of having a hell of a good time. More than any other Black Keys album, El Camino is an outright party, playing like a collection of 11 lost 45 singles, each one having a bigger beat or dirtier hook than the previous side. What’s being said doesn’t matter as much as how it’s said: El Camino is all trash and flash and it’s highly addictive.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine