By at 5:03 PM Tuesday, November 29th 2011


The Black Keys Bring Full-Throttle Muscle On ‘El Camino’

The Black Keys, Reviews


El Camino, The Black Keys‘ seventh LP, sounds nothing like its predecessor Brothers, the album that took them from secret gems to superstars. Tighten Up producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton returns for the entire ride this time, and it wasn’t a matter of adding color to a finished product; Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney entered the studio with nothing. They started from scratch, and the living blues legends from Akron have risen to meet the Gnarls knob turner with an album that hip-checks the sensational hit factory of Brothers for boundless pockets of catchiness and full-throttle gut-rock.

Front-end loaded by Carney’s best and most aggressive work on the kit thus far, the throttle of El Camino remains nearly constant throughout the record’s eleven tracks, and from the low-swinging shimmy of opener Lonely Boy to the percussive hammer-assault of  Money Maker, the Keys have come dangerously close to making a dance record. On paper that may seem like a pretty fucked up turn, but rest assured, this is no Skrillex collaboration. What Auerbach and Carney have cooked up this time is so damned packed with hard-hitting but lighthearted psychedelia-toned goodness, you can’t help but shake your moneymaker.

The soulful R&B sheen of Brothers is conspicuously absent, replaced with 60s garage charm and Cramps-style rhythmic attitude with rockabilly frills. The melodic parallels between xylophone and vocals in Dead and Gone resurrect that 60s vibration, over extended-vowel sentiments in a verse that gives way to an irresistibly punchy & hand-clapping chorus current.

The hip-shaking retro sparkle is taken even further in the downright psychedelic sunshine of bass-bouncing Stop Stop. Carney’s beat designs are only slightly more impressive than the fact that he simply beats the almighty shit out of his kit, a perfect accompaniment to Auerbach’s invigorated fire.

Auerbach’s guitar is often used chiefly as a rhythmic device, as on the slow-chopping chill of Sister, with only abbreviated solo excursions. With a radio-bait chorus and head-nodding groove, the track’s strength lies in the smooth soul of Motown’s influence rising from the frigid atmosphere.

The shorthand acoustic Stairway design of Little Black Submarines undoubtedly earns deductions among Zeppelinophiles, but the progression is gorgeous beyond the point of absolution – all the way down to the fret vibration on the E note. At the halfway point, Auerbach’s guitar and Carney’s drums break out at a gallop, embracing the feathered hair era and turning the chorus to ten. The splicing of two versions of the song – electric and acoustic – is the perfect intensifying dynamic to truly earn the word epic. Hold those doubts till you see this monster unleashed onstage.

Nova Baby calls back a classic style, a soaring chorus bemoaning a hopeless love, while the garagey grind-surge of Gold On The Ceiling gets a supercharge from the squealing Jack White-ish stuttercraft guitar, given flecks of ethereal color by multiple female backing vocals and handclaps. It’s a blast of beauty, a muscle car ride with the top down on a cold desert morning, blindingly bright with beauty by your side.

That may be the core of El Camino‘s magic – the visceral connection, rather than the cerebral eclecticism that drove much of the previous record. It’s a record to bridge genres and generations, with enough rockabilly stomp-funk goodness to be precisely the right album after midnight with a few rolled, a few tipped and some good friends. Sounds like a modern classic to me.

Order El Camino


The Black Keys

El Camino

Released: 6/12/2011
Label: Nonesuch
1. Lonely Boy (3:13)
2. Dead And Gone (3:41)
3. Gold On The Ceiling (3:44)
4. Little Black Submarines (4:11)
5. Money Maker (2:57)
6. Run Right Back (3:17)
7. Sister (3:25)
8. Hell Of A Season (3:45)
9. Stop Stop (3:30)
10. Nova Baby (3:27)
11. Mind Eraser (3:15)

Meanwhile, On The Internet...

  1. Mike says:

    I think it’s a good album, but for me it is a grower. Without a doubt my favorite song is “Little Black Submarines”.

  2. cory hatton says:

    nice review, I love it immensely too. put a big pep in my step during my move. anyone notice the middle part of little black submarines sounds exactly like mary jane’s last dance?!

  3. alex says:

    I hope this isn’t as raw as the last album. After getting blown away by the live set I was quite disappointed with the album but heard potential.
    Definately checking this out.

  4. Adrian Garro says:

    Love this record, probably more so than Brothers. I did hear the Mary Jane’s Last Dance part midway through Submarines, coincidentally.

  5. Long Time Fan, First Time Caller says:

    Really enjoyed what I’ve heard so far from the record, about 3/4 in, but 5 stars seems a little too kind. Undoubtedly this is great stuff that does make you ‘want to shake your moneymaker’, but it definitely isn’t flawless. You’ve been giving out quite a few perfect scores this year, Johnny, and it makes me worried the critical aspect of AQ is burning out a little.

    Kinda feels like you’re just fanboying over records this year, like the Foo Fighters one which, while pretty rockin’, wasn’t consistent enough – to me anyway – to get a 4.5/5 either; the songwriting was pretty poor towards the middle of it. The Mastodon record definitely was not due 5 stars, and the Bon Iver was massively questionable too – I remember accusing you guys of bandwagoneering there, with the baffling acclaim that one got despite being a total mess in parts.

    I know you’ll inevitably reply about how I’m skipping to the numbers and that I’m an asshole who needs to get off your damn lawn, but I promise I’m not. I read the review, and considered what you have to say – I enjoy the way you express yourself too, you’re a decent writer and I’ve known that for years. However, it’s a shame that you haven’t been more ‘picky’, for lack of a better word, when it comes to evaluating the album’s worth recently

    I’ll keep on reading your shit as long as you keep the site up and running, but I thought I’d throw my two cents in

    • Name two other albums I personally gave 5 stars to this year.

      • Long Time Fan, First Time Caller says:

        Couldn’t from the top of my head, and I meant “you’ve been” as in the site as a whole, with you as the editor or whatever since Skwerl seems to be MIA. Two words, though: Jane’s Addiction. That album got very few positive reviews, and your glowing one seemed a little out of place in that case. I don’t really think I’m being pedantic about this either – the numbers shouldn’t be more important than the content; it’s just that in these cases the high score didn’t really seem deserved, to me at least.

        However, you seem riled and I don’t want to get in an argument on here that I can’t win when your buddies eventually come along. Only my stray observations

          • Long Time Fan, First Time Caller says:

            …and before you go there and get the wrong idea I am not suggesting that you follow critical consensus when making your own judgements. It just seems like you’ve been blinded by nostalgia a little when reviewing bands who had their heyday in the 90s this year

            • More claims that have no backing. Calling nostalgic bias because I rated Jane’s Addiction higher than the average – what other evidence do you have? Read the title of the damned review – I was surprised it was as good as it was. The Chili Peppers record got 4 stars because it’s pretty fantastic. Define it any way you will, but linking to a collection of other sites’ reviews with a different opinion generally tells me you don’t grasp Antiquiet’s core drive. We could give a shit about the consensus.

              We have contributing writers whose ratings don’t often reflect Skwerl’s or my own, and reserve a one-star swing in either direction if we see fit. Putting that right to use has resulted in some reader firestorms about journalistic integrity and the like (as if star value has any impact on the words), but this is the first time I’ve seen an argument actually *for* doing so.

              To be honest, it’s kind of refreshing. Do I believe Bon Iver deserves 5 stars? Hell no. But I listened enough to know it was strong, and trusted our writer, whose taste I strongly respect. He spent considerably more time with the record than I have. Does Mastodon deserve 5? Yes they do – and that was another contributor trust-leap. So the coin falls on both sides.

              • I was about to comment on how wrong this guy is, then I got entirely too annoyed to do anything other then name call like a punk. But I will say that over the last few years Ive frequented AQ, both Johnny and Fernando have led me to some incredible music. Stuff I wouldnt have known to put up. Before you start calling them out, remember back to what youve discovered thanks to them. If its a short list then maybe you should be over at Pitchfork eating a large bag of dicks.

  6. Houston says:

    Long Time Fan, First Time Caller – Go to Pitchfork if you want a site that gives amazing records mediocre reviews just to build their own brand of hype machine. That’s what I love about Antiquiet. They give you exactly what they feel and what they feel an album deserves. Not some prepackaged, bullshit scoring system with a pretentious, garbage filled writeup. They don’t play the hype machine game. If it sucks, it fucking sucks. And if it’s good, then party on. What more do you want?

  7. @Long Time Fan, First Time Caller

    You listened to three quarters of the album then came up with your verdict on how good someone else’s review is! Perhaps therein lies you problem. I am damn sure Johnny will have played the album through once or twice before penning his review. Perhaps you should do the same.


    You just completely summed up my opinion about Pitchfork. Read a couple of lukewarm reviews of QOTSA on there. Now I might be a little biased as they are probably my favourite band. But quite frankly they can stick their reviews up their collective arses.

    Cannot wait to hear the new Black Keys. Loved their last album.

  8. Cam says:

    Aside from the music, the way these guys are conducting themselves as a band is starting to taint them for me. First it was the cancelling of all those shows because they were “exhausted,” and then not having the balls to even write their own statement on their website apologizing to their fans (I believe it was their manager). Now, I read that they are trying to ban streaming of El Camino on such services as spotify because “it still isn’t at a point where you’re able to replace royalties from record sales with the royalties from streams.” Horse shit. Why would you block a way to make royalties, no matter how small, and allow people to preview your album to decide if they want to buy it? When compared to the alternative of them just downloading the whole thing for free because they couldn’t stream it, it seems like a no-brainer. These guys are starting to seem more and more like little whiny bitches to me.

  9. […] – not only as a producer, but as a co-writer. Having last produced The Black Keys’ El Camino (which sky-rocketed them into Madison Square Garden-filling status), he changes Jones’ sound […]

  10. […] the rest of the evening, the Black Keys played a set heavy on material from last year’s 5-star El Camino and 2010′s Brothers with a small selection of older tracks for those who have been with them […]

  11. […] Boy was extremely simple, weird, and a sure recipe for going viral. After their latest album El Camino burned up the charts and got the band to sell-out Madison Square Garden, it was reasonable to […]

  12. […] been barely half a year since The Black Keys reached new levels of success with their seventh LP El Camino, and the band is already planning a return to the […]

  13. […] once more in July, in order to record the follow-up to their insanely successful seventh LP El Camino. As it turns out, the duo ended up staying too busy for the past few months, but the plans to head […]

  14. […] The Black Keys have had a pretty fantastic 2012, touring on the back of last year’s phenomenal El Camino. […]

  15. […] night of the year, we share this great clip of the band performing one of the strongest tracks from El Camino. Enjoy Little Black Submarines down […]

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