REVIEW: The Black Keys – El Camino


Artist: The Black Keys
Album: El Camino
Genre: Rock/Blues
Label: Nonesuch

Before I start this review, I’ll admit I wasn’t familiar with The Black Keys before hearing El Camino. A quick Google search tells me that this is Ohio duo’s seventh full-length and though from the early moments of “Lonely Boy,” it seems to be a striking record that goes downs the blues rock route, as a whole it fails to leave a lasting impact.

The latter mentioned track (“Lonely Boy”) sets the stage out for the rest of El Camino, an upbeat tempo with soulful vocals that sounds outdated and heavily leans towards the classic 70’s garage rock. Don’t get me wrong, fans of that genre and style will love tracks like “Lonely Boy” and the blitzy, hooky “Dead and Gone” but for others it’s a style that quickly becomes somewhat dull.

Following on is the gritty “Gold On The Ceiling” with fuzzy organs and complimentary female backing vocals adding to the whole blues rock fest. Their style is direct and their melodies have some sense of attraction, with vocalist Dan Auerbach providing a highly confident performance throughout the record.

While on tracks like “Money Maker” and “Run Right Back,” it is evident that Auerbach along with drummer Patrick Carney, of capable of writing catching, tight blues-pop numbers that keep you interested. The latter is raw, rock n roll stomp that gives the album a much needed kick. “Sister” takes on a more funkier, poppy approach with a swaggering beat, that suits the bands style well.

Although there are slight moments that win you over, by the time you reach tracks like “Stop Stop” and bitter “Nova Baby,” you get the impression that The Black Keys are stuck in their ways and struggle to adapt or expand their sound. As a listener, you become both frustrated and tired as the American blues rock sound seems to be limited and dated.

Nevertheless it is clear that Auerbach and Carney are talented songwriters and musicians; Auerbach’s stringent guitar lines give the record more definition and his vocals perfectly suits the bands style and his words often easily roll off the tongue, when they mean most. While Carney’s drumwork thrives on tracks such as “Hell Of A Season.”

If you look past the dated, blues rock sound you will be welcomed with a soulful, often melodic record that is capable of sustaining your attention. For others, including myself, it proves to be a lacklustre album from a band that is trapped in their ways, and fails to show any indication of changing anytime soon.

SCORE: 5/10

Review written by: Sean Reid

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Dustin D

    “Before I start this review, I’ll admit I wasn’t familiar with The Black Keys before hearing El Camino.”  Seeing this at the beginning of a review is a major turn off.  You should familiarize yourself more than simply googling the subject before reviewing.  Otherwise a statement like that discredits anything else that follows.  Listen to their other albums, get a feel for what type of music they make to understand what to expect.

  • Totally agree Dustin!  The reviewer made no mention of the fact that Danger Mouse produced this album either.  It’s a terrible review, not because it’s negative, but because the writer openly admits in the very first sentence that he knows nothing about the band.  Saying that the album “sounds outdated” is completely ludicrous.  The Black Keys have always been an homage to hard-rocking, soulful blues of the 70’s.  They’re popular because they have a classic, timeless sound that hearkens back to an era of music that is largely extinct today.

  • While I wholeheartedly appreciate both your opinions, I must disagree. Music is an artform meant to be enjoyed by those familiar with the artist and not. To say someone cannot properly evaluate an album simply because they have not heard the prior releases is nonsense. Hearing prior releases may offer insight into the band’s overall sound, i will not deny that, but more than anything it forms an opinion of the band in one’s mind that all future releases are judged against. Sean has not heard the group’s prior releases, but has a thorough understanding of the current music industry (both popular and indie), if he felt their sound was something worthy of praising he would have said so and it would have been one of the most honest things said about the record.

    This is not a fan boy’s review, this is a music fan’s review. Beyond that, it is an opinion being expressed by an individual whose thoughts and views on music have been deemed not only worth, but knowledgable based on previous traffic to his content. To say he is a bad writer simply because he was not a fan or knowledgable going in would be to discredit anyone that has ever reviewed a band they were not first familiar with, as well as anyone that ever disliked something popular.

  • i stopped reading at the “i wasn’t familiar with The Black Keys”   What a douche

  • Stulli

    James. You make a good argument and I agree that music is an art that does not always necessarily need to be understood to be enjoyed – That is called ‘Pop Music’. It does strike me as strange that someone who has no prior knowledge of the band should feel they have the right to write a pretty damning review of  an album when they have no idea of the context in which the album was made. The Black Keys are not exactly obscure and as someone providing an opinion on a band’s output should at least be suitably qualified to do so.  To put it another way it is like someone walking into an art gallery looking at Picasso’s Guernica  without ever even heard of Cubism or the Spanish Civil and going- boring and the guy should learn to paint and use colour

  • Anonymous

    The fact that you are not familiar with the Black Keys me wonder how out of touch you are with modern music, and that makes your review highly suspect.

    Not familiar with the Black Keys? That is unbelievable for a music critic. I’m not a big fan of the band, but they are pretty deeply embedded in our modern musical culture.

  • While being familiar with a band is not a prerequisite for having an opinion, the fact that any person, let alone a “critic” would be unfamiliar with The Keys at this point completely undermines their credibility. They won a freaking Grammy last year, shithead! 

    That said, this guy has no business publishing a review in a genre he clearly knows nothing about. And then the nerve of this asshole to say the Black Keys are “stuck in their ways…” Based off of what, your Google search of the band, you giant fucking douche?

  • Sam

    Before reading this review, I’ll admit, I wasn’t familiar with Sean Reid. A quick Google search shows that he is an inept 14 year old with Aspberger’s, who is contributing to the erosion of web-based journalism one apathetic Google search at a time. 

  • You can’t have “stuck in their ways” twice in a review where in the first sentence you say you’re not familiar with the band. For fans who want to know how this album holds up, there’s nothing of value in this review. However, it might be said that if someone who hadn’t stumbled upon them think they’re stuck in their ways, it must be a pretty same-y album. Of course, if someone stumbled across Lead Belly they might say the same. 

  • Mcgonic13

    is it really a problem that they are sticking to their sound? that is the reason the black keys are great! they don’t need to change a thing.

  • Ace

    While his review may have some very valid points (that I definitely appreciate) about El Camino and its accompanying tracks, he should not claim that the Black Keys are, “a band that is trapped in their ways, and fails to show any indication of changing anytime soon.”  If you say that a band is trapped in its ways, doesn’t that imply that you know what the band’s previous “ways” are/were?  And he openly admits at the beginning of the article that he has no familiarity with the Black Keys and their previous work: “Before I start this review, I’ll admit I wasn’t familiar with The Black Keys before hearing El Camino.”  So how could he possibly say that they’re trapped in his ways if he’s not even familiar with what those ways are?  While I am a huge fan, I don’t think it takes a particularly discerning or 100% impartial ear to hear the marked differences between the Black Key’s earliest albums (The Big Come Up, Thickfreakness) and their newer albums (Brothers and now El Camino).  While they obviously didn’t record their earlier albums in a fully fledged professional recording studio, their early and their current/later albums are still markedly different.  Sure, they’re still playing the same general sort of music, but to say their music hasn’t changed much when it clearly has, well, that’s just patently ridiculous.  Don’t make assertions about the band’s past if you don’t know anything about their past other from the few things you gleamed from a quick google/wikipedia search. 

  • Petros R

    Their sound in the Brothers album and in Attack and Release were way different than the sound of El Camino. And clearly you haven’t listened to Blackroc which is a rap/rock collaboration they did. Im pretty sure they “changed” for you a bit on that one, I haven’t heard of that many 70’s garage bands who collaborate with a bunch of rappers. Those are their latest three albums….of course you wouldn’t know that though because you’ve only googled them.

  • Swede

    I’m sorry but you clearly have no idea what you are talking about. You’re a music critic and never heard of the Black Keys? Please.

  • Switch Careers Sean


    How can you be a music writer and have never heard of the Black Keys?  It’s time to switch careers my friend.  Let me guess…you’re in your early twenties and probably never heard of Led Zeppelin and still live at home with your parents?  This is one of the few bands that are actually playing rock.  What band would you call a rock band?…I’m curious.

  • S Larvbina

    Dead on Ace. Absolutely contradicting himself makes for a review with no authority. I feel dumber for having read this review. I award you no points and may god have mercy on your soul.

  • This is very rude and inconsiderate. 

  • I’m 25 and yes, I do know who Led Zeppelin. I’ve always been a fan of rock, in some form or another. I grew up listening to Queen and bands like Oasis, Radiohead and Manic Street Preachers.

  • I’m sorry to fans of this band, and I’m sorry I’m not familiar with them. Maybe in the US or in certain “scenes,” The Black Keys are a big deal but for me, before hearing this record, I had only heard of them by name. 

  • garbage review.

  • sam

    what a dreadful review. better luck next time, greyface.

  • Jack

    this guy actually calls himself a reviewer? UTG..what the hell happened?

  • While I do agree with a number of the comments here, I think it’s also good to have the perspective of someone who hasn’t already fallen in love with the Black Keys’ sound. Thanks for a different perspective Sean.

  • Sean Fucking Sucks

    you suck man. you cant review. its ok though though…your young. eventually you will realize you made a terrible decision to start reviewing things and things will start to turn for the better. but until then, good luck writing this lame ass shit.

  • Sean Reid cant write.

    you suck man. you cant review. its ok though though…your young. eventually you will realize you made a terrible decision to start reviewing things and things will start to turn for the better. but until then, good luck writing this lame crapola. 

  • Ben

    If you are considering critiquing music for a living, you need to re-evaluate that decision. It’s not for you. 

  • Anonymous

    Blues-rock is never outdated.  Perhaps they should venture into dubstep?

  • Aaron yourselves a favor. Find a new reviewer and drop this one like shit.

  • Yesterday’s Generation

    WTF? – And this comes after the New York Times gives the album extremely high praise, with this headline:
    First, Hit It Big. Then Change.
    Just read an LA Times review that says it may be the best album of 2011 or 2012 or both!
    Not saying Sean has to go with the tide… but I think this time he jumped the shark. Signed – Yesterday’s Generation Who Loves to Mix Her Metaphors. 

  • Anonymous

    This album is their worst one.  The songs  are too simple, and they become very unexciting. I have nothing against simple songs, but the soul has been removed from the music.  The sound of the drums are thin, the guitar is too muffled, and the voice is not mixed.  My biggest complaint with this album is the production and lack of feeling this album has compared to their other gems.

  • Anonymous

    Mistake: Voice is not mixed well with the other instruments.  

  • Giles818

    dude, you’re really giving the irish a bad name. if you’ve never heard of the black keys prior to last week, i’m guessing you’ve never heard “classic 70’s garage rock” either, so how can you compare it to that or anything else you’ve never listened to? this line alone makes your review quite suspect. i think you’re a bit over your head w/ this one, captain. 

    with this said, at this point you can do one of two things: you can smoke a joint while you put the last four keys’ records (including this one) on repeat, or you go watch the dude from the “lonely boy” video dance on ellen again while you sip a zima. i hope for your sake, as a music critic, you do the former.

    all the best, 

  • Dave