On El Camino, Auerbach and Carney absorb those moments, extract the strut and melodies, and throw it right back. It’s a trick that lazier talents would have accomplished with heavy doses of irony, but the Keys are way too affectionate for that. El Camino has Auerbach slamming robust riffs in a confident, personal way, trying to fit a stadium rock sound into a walk-in refrigerator. It’s an easily adaptable sound, cutting across all rhythms from the scoot-shuffling “Lonely Boy” to the glam-rock throwback “Gold On The Ceiling.” The wild abandon also makes the very predictable trick in “Little Black Submarines” — part one acoustic Zeppelin folk, part two thunderous electric restatement — giddy and irresistible.
The Keys’ nod to mutant, late '70s album-oriented rock is especially subtle and gratifying. “Run Right Back” owes a melodic debt to, of all things, Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice,” but makes it rawer. When they flirt with rhythms just an open high-hat short of disco on “Sister” and “Nova Baby,” the Keys always bring the music back to the grit of Auerbach’s sharp guitars and Carney’s insistent drumming. There are sly keyboard quotations on “Hell Of A Season” and "Stop Stop" — Danger Mouse’s contribution, I'm guessing — but they're a shading device. The technology doesn’t hold any song hostage, which is what ruined, say, (Jefferson) Starship. Hindsight has its advantages.
El Camino has the ambling swagger of a 19-year-old kid who’s only just realized he has the capacity to be cool. Entirely upbeat except for half of one song, it’s the Black Keys’ most logical next step on their passage from American roots to rock splendor. Now that a popular audience has finally caught up to the Black Keys, they’re hitting the gas.