Review: The Black Keys – ‘El Camino’

Originally published for IAreYeti.

Following on from the success of last year’s ‘Brothers’, which gained the band 5 Grammy award nominations, 3 of which they won, and sold over a million copies worldwide, The Black Keys’ 7th studio album, ‘El Camino’, was released today. The band have stayed true to their original sound, with the usual garage-y guitar riffs, pounding drums and blues-y vocals, but have managed to catapult their status, as a live band, into much larger territory. As is the band’s popularity, that they have had to add a 3rd date to their London shows at The Alexandra Palace, in their upcoming arena tour, in February next year.  With only two shows yet to completely sell out, it’s clear that The Black Keys are a band only going from strength to strength.

The new album, ‘El Camino’, opens with lead single, ‘Lonely Boy’, complete with an infectious riff and anthemic chorus, setting the standard for the rest of the record. As the album continues into ‘Dead and Gone’ and ‘Gold on the Ceiling’, a trend begins to emerge in the band’s use of epic choruses, as though they have designed each one to be sung back to them. However, reaching ‘Little Black Submarines’, the band slow things down a bit with a track, which is more reminiscent of Bob Dylan than their usual comparisons of The Hives, The White Stripes etc. But don’t be fooled, half way through the track leads into a heavy, garage-rock breakdown, making it one of the stand-out tracks on the album. ‘Sister’ is another one of the highlights on the album, as it adds a bit of versatility to the usual three minute rock-outs, with a smoother, more soulful feel, particularly on the vocals in the chorus.

The band’s experimentation with sounds and rhythms are apparent throughout the album, from the soulful intro in ‘Run Right Back’, to the reggae sounding guitar riff in ‘Hell of a Season’, showing a variation of influences. Each track has similarities, as is the nature of the band’s sound, but each one is unique in its own way. In fact, perhaps the only two ‘growers’ on the album are ‘Money Maker’ and ‘Nova Baby’, which is not to say they are bad, just perhaps not as catchy and instantly infectious as the rest of the tracks.

While some may accuse the band of sounding repetitive, this criticism is irrelevant, as the sound that the band have worked so long to nurture and develop is what makes them one of the best bands to come out of the US in the last ten years. Every band has a sound and that’s something that will never change but, what does matter, is that they continue to make brilliant albums and that is exactly what The Black Keys are doing. ‘El Camino’ may not be on the same scale as ‘Brothers’ but it is still an infectious, exciting and credible record, which fans of the band will thoroughly enjoy.

The only unfortunate thing is that it seems the band will never escape from the continuing comparisons to The White Stripes and other garage-rock bands of that era, which isn’t really fair, considering they have outlasted a lot of them. Now that The Black Keys seem to finally be achieving the success and acclaim they have, for so long, deserved, maybe one day they will manage to shake off those tedious, never-ending comparisons. After all, they are a fantastic band, with a lot more to prove to the world.

Overall Rating: 4/5