El Camino Review

artist: The Black Keys date: 12/16/2011 category: compact discs
The Black Keys: El Camino
Released: Dec 6, 2011
Genre: Blues-rock, garage rock
Label: Nonesuch
Number Of Tracks: 11
The Black Keys are serious about taking over the mainstream, and you can be sure of the band's status as the next big arena rock band.
 Sound: 8.3
 Lyrics: 8
 Overall Impression: 8.3
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reviews (4) 30 comments vote for this album:
overall: 9
El Camino Reviewed by: unregistered, on december 08, 2011
3 of 3 people found this review helpful

Sound: There's no doubt that The Black Keys' sound has changed quite a bit since the band's first album in 2002. This new album will leave some listeners with feelings of nostalgia for the band's old style, as with their last album, "Brothers", which was hugely successful (raking in 3 Grammy's). However, those who are not opposed to the evolution of a band over time will find these new tracks fresh and well-written. Being produced once more by Danger Mouse, the majority of this album's sound follows in the vein of former Danger Mouse-produced Keys material, such as "Tighten Up" off of "Brothers" and 2008 album "Attack & Release". While much of "Brothers" was fairly laid back with some empty space left by shimmering guitars and falsetto singing, most of the guitar work "El Camino" is fairly fuzzed out, and Auerbach's voice is backed by a Nashville-style female chorus. One might call this new sound a happy medium between "Brothers" and the band's older material. Most of the songs are fairly short, giving the album a bit more pop-y feel. Do not be alarmed, however; the band maintains musical integrity and creativity while adding a new tinge to their overall sound, which has become a cross between 70's southern and punk rock with some disco elements thrown in. // 10

Lyrics: Most of the lyrics on "El Camino" have to do with women. Although the subject may not be entirely original, most of the lyrics fit the songs well throughout, with catchy choruses and some tongue-in-cheek verses. Departing from this are tracks "Gold On The Ceiling" and "Hell Of A Season", which help to balance out the "have-a-girl, had-a-girl" lyrics on the other songs. There is little particularly profound in most of the words, but they fit quite nicely with the overall feel of the album. // 8

Overall Impression: I, unlike other listeners, am often impressed with a band's ability to mold itself into something new between albums, and The Black Keys have succeeded fairly well in doing so. Although a lot of the album may seem like "singles", it is actually pretty diverse in and of itself, ranging from "Sister", a quick, upbeat tune about (of course) a girl to "Little Black Submarines", which sounds almost like a shorter "Stairway To Heaven". Since I got blasted on my last review for giving straight 10's, I'll give the overall impression a 9, but know this: in relation to today's music, it IS straight 10's. Unless you'd rather listen to the Justin Beiber Christmas album. // 9

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overall: 9
El Camino Reviewed by: FN77, on december 08, 2011
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Sound: The Black Keys have long been a filthy sounding blues-rock duo, but now with the addition of Danger Mouse going full-time behind their soundboard, that dirt has become a little more polished. Whether this is really a good thing or not is up for debate; personally I loved their fuzz-drenched, imperfect, Thickfreakness sound, but it's all good. Sadly, The Black Keys are no longer the little musical secret only for people in the know; the secret is out and it will be coming to a stadium near you very soon. While we can all bitch about them not playing the small venues or that they are now becoming overexposed, the simple fact is that the music is still great. Their is no compromising the sound, it's still all Keys. Dan Auerbach had said they were much more influenced by bands who pushed the tempo this time around, such as The Clash or The Cramps, and it does show. There are a lot more sharp, punchy chords to frame the verses on El Camino, but don't worry, all the guitar-riffy goodness is still very much there. While these songs are not as bare-bones as they used to be, with keyboards and synth often filling in the empty spaces, The Black Keys have definitely found their own rock sound, whether it's in the mainstream now or not. // 9

Lyrics: "Oh can it be, the voices calling me, they get lost and out of time. I should have seen it glow, but everybody knows that a broken heart is blind, that a broken heart is blind." That line is taken from the song Little Black Submarines, which some have described as the new Stairway to Heaven. There are places on this album where you could say Dan went for the hook a little too hard, such as the obvious hit-making, Stop, Stop, but for the most part, the lyrics are still as raw, cool and emotionally resonant as ever. Little Black Submarines calls back to the type of depth heard on Rubber Factory's The Lengths. As for the singing, Auerbach proved on Brothers that he can sing in a variety of styles and ranges. This time around, Dan didn't go for the falsetto as much as the last record, but his vocals are just as dynamic as ever. // 9

Overall Impression: I liked Brothers a lot, but there were still songs on it that I routinely passed on. With El Camino, their are eleven tracks and they are all pretty solid. The weakest songs on the album are Gold on the Ceiling, which may be the new Howling For You, and Stop, Stop, which is a little more hooky than most Keys offerings. While it isn't as blues as Chulahoma or as raw as Thickfreakness, El Camino fits nicely in their library of records. Other than Little Black Submarines, my favorite track on the album is Sister, which is the closest to the older style of songs from Dan and Pat that you will find on the album. These songs are not going to immediately punch you in the face with guitar riffs, like Just Got To Be or Set You Free, but what The Black Keys have created is probably the most complete soul/rock album of 2011. // 9

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overall: 7.3
El Camino Reviewed by: UG Team, on december 08, 2011
0 of 4 people found this review helpful

Sound: The Black Keys' sound is a success right from the off; hiring Danger Mouse to take care of production is commercially one of the most exciting things The Black Keys could have done for "El Camino". With names like Danger Mouse involved, The Black Keys have come a long way since their early days spent jamming bluesy rock songs in garages. It's fair to say that the involvement of Danger Mouse on this album preludes The Black Keys' biggest turn to pop music yet. That's not to take anything away from The Black Keys. They retain their quirky style and unique take on emotive songs. "Little Black Submarines" is particularly poignant in this respect; it's cute, dancing melody reliant upon the most minimal of guitar lines. Songs like "Money Maker" retain the bouncy fuzzy guitar riffs that helped to make the band popular, while "Run Right Back" is the sort of song that can turn the mainstream on its head. It's like a hallucinogenic journey, inspired by devilish guitars, sounding like The Clash for the 21st century. For a reggae-infused Black Keys' song, look no further than "Hell Of A Season", the song that won't give up in its subtle attempts to get you moving. It's deceptively bouncy, demanding a relaxed dance to go with it. Meanwhile, "Stop Stop" includes jangly, sharp guitars and a terrifically simple guitar solo after the chorus. This sounds like exactly the kind of song that only The White Stripes could dare to pull off better in this day and age. It's important to reserve special mention for the first track on the album, incidentally the first single from the album: "Lonely Boy". This is the single The Black Keys have threatened to release for a few years now, and I'm glad it's finally here. It is living (yes, I'm ascribing life to this song) proof that you don't need to overdo guitars with distortion to achieve a gritty, mucky, decadent rock n' roll noise. With bouncing bass lines and a terrific guitar solo, this is an excellent choice for a single. But what really stands out is the guitar riff played in a standoff with all the other instruments in the middle of the song. It's almost the most subtle battle musicians have contested among themselves since the 1980s. These songs make for tasteful rock n' roll: brief, beautiful, anything but benign. The Black Keys keep things moving, and you should move with them. // 7

Lyrics: Daniel Quine Auerbach is well-regarded for his vocal capabilities. He doesn't indulge in any unnecessary histrionics, his falsetto is subtle and lithe, and his voice is so far-removed from the perils of stereotype that I can't help but sit back and marvel at just how good a job he performs on this album. Vocally, the chorus of "Stop, Stop" is where Auerbach excels, making the transition from his usual laid back swoon to a falsetto so cool he get away with, well, whatever he wants, really. Lyrically, this is all on the simple side of things, but you won't find yourself singing along to more of any other album next year. // 7

Overall Impression: Overall Impression: It's the collaboration with Danger Mouse that really does it for me. The Black Keys are serious about taking over the mainstream, and you can be sure of the band's status as the next big arena rock band (if that status isn't already in play). It'll be intriguing to witness which of these songs the band next releases as a single. If truth be told, The Black Keys have recorded eleven fine songs, each of which could make a case for being a single. The only problem for The Black Keys is choosing. // 8

- Sam Agini (c) 2011

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overall: 7.3
El Camino Reviewed by: imgooley, on december 16, 2011
0 of 2 people found this review helpful

Sound: This is The Black Keys' 7th studio album and a tremendous departure from their original sound. While the obvious evolution in production and overall sonic landscape of their sound is quite obvious, there are other things that are not. The most notable aspect of The Black Keys' new sound is the change in rhythmic style. This is a shift that started with "Attack And Release" and seems to reach an apex with "El Camino". While one may posit that this is a product of the production style of Danger Mouse, I think that the current sound of The Black Keys is a product of natural development. Simple music has a lot of possibilities, but many limitations as well. The band's back catalog is largely based on old style juke joint and street corner blues. If they had continued down that same path, their sound might have stagnated, but they decided to reinvent themselves through several different avenues, finally arriving at "El Camino". "El Camino" is an album that embraces a classic rock style that almost borders on post-punk at times, rhythmically. Overall, it's paradoxically more straightforward rhythmically, and more complex melodically than much of the band's back catalog. Personally, I think their sound has been dumbed down quite a bit on this record. It's not bad, but it's not as ear catching as their previous work. Dan's voice doesn't match this style nearly as much as it does on "Rubber Factory" or "Chulahoma". // 7

Lyrics: The lyrics are this record's strong point. They are melancholy and not overly so. To me it almost seems as if Dan's lyrical styling have changed very little over their 10 year career. The lyrics of the lead track and single "Lonely Boy" have motifs that harken back to songs such as "I Cry Alone" and "No Trust". // 8

Overall Impression: Overall, I find this album mediocre when compared to the back catalog of the band. The tracks are hit or miss, and the rhythms don't swing as much as they used to. That said, it's still one of the better albums released this year. The Black Keys are no longer a blues band, and that will open up many roads for them in the future. This album is very analogous to "Brothers", and that won them a Grammy. However, this album makes me lose hope of hearing again the band I fell in love with so many years ago. // 7

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