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Sharp work with not a single flat

I saw rock and roll's future," wrote a misguided Jon Landau in 1974. "And it's name is Bruce Springsteen."

Not even Nostradamus could have predicted the constipated, muscle-bound, boogie-blather that the Boss unleashed on the musical landscape in the '80s and '90s.

So no predictions here. But let's just say, "I've seen rock'n'roll's past and it's positively life-affirming."

The Black Keys' duo, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney, made the Album of the Year last year with their barnstorming Brothers. Now they knock every other rock album into the also-ran pile for 2011.

Few bands manage to make entire albums that maintain such a spirited standard of excellence as The Black Keys on El Camino.


They weren't alone in this venture. Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) both co-produced and co-wrote each of the songs. They've worked together before. Burton mixed Tighten Up from Brothers, which gave the duo their biggest hit to date. He also produced (some might say over-produced) their 2008 album Attack & Release. This time around the collaboration seems a match made in heaven.

It's said the three of them had been working on an album with Ike Turner before the great pioneer (not forgetting that he gave the missus an appalling time) died in 2007.

I guess Ike was born under a particularly bad sign. Because the likelihood is that working with these dudes would have rehabilitated his reputation for rock'n'roll greatness. (No one can argue with Rocket 88, his first recording.)

Tellingly, the band claim the new album owes a debt to the influences of The Cramps and The Clash. But that's only the tip of this iceberg of cool.

While Auerbach and Carney reach far into rock'n'roll's past, pulling out stylistic flourishes from astonishingly diverse sources, Burton brings his own passions for psychedelia, Italian movie soundtracks and the hip-hop zeitgeist to this party.

Each song comes with a powerful melody and a musical hook that grab the listener's attention and demand that they hit replay.

Auerbach (don't forget his wonderful solo album Keep It Hid) might just have the best voice in rock'n'roll at present. Even when he's having a good time, he sounds suitably tortured. His lyrical concerns rarely stray far from the greasy kid stuff of failed romance, existential regret and woozy paranoia.

From the scuzzy sock-hop intro of Lonely Boy to the Free-sounding Mind Eraser, El Camino is packed with highlights. Gold On The Ceiling has a glam-rock stomp that's part The Sweet and part Suzi Quatro.

The Black Keys make rock'n'roll music that makes you want to dance. Run Right Back channels the spirit of Marc Bolan as Auerbach confesses: "She's the worst thing I've been addicted to. I'd run right back to her . . ."

Little Black Submarine pulls a Led Zep stunt by drifting along in acoustic mode before unleashing sonic mayhem. Like Iggy Pop at his best, this would sound dumb if they weren't so damned talented. HHHHH