Ranking The Black Keys’ Albums from Best to Worst

If you’ve listened to my show since I’ve started at X, you know that I LOVE to talk about The Black Keys. They’re the band that got me interested in alternative tunes in the first place. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever shut the hell up about them, I may be pushing it that badly.

But to celebrate the release of their new record Ohio Players (which I chatted about with Patrick Carney, which you can check out here), I thought I should rank their albums from best to worst. Feel free to give me feedback on my list, either in the comments or at my email. There is no right or wrong here, I’d just love to chat tunes.

The ranking, from best to worst:

1. Brothers (2010)

The best music they’ve ever produced. Front-to-back, I don’t know if I can name a single bad song on this record, and the vibe is just perfect. A mix of blues, rock and soul. This was the album that made me fall in love with the band. The first four songs on this record are an incredible start to this record and are a staple of every live show they do. If you’re looking for a deep cut off of Brothers to check out, listen to “Black Mud.” Very cool instrumental track.

2. El Camino (2011)

While Brothers set the band up for mainstream success, El Camino followed through with an even bigger arena rock sound. Seriously, every song on this album is high tempo, catchy rock. El Camino sounds nothing like it’s predecessor, but was arguably a more popular album. This is a feel good record, meant to get you dancing and shouting along to songs like “Lonely Boy.”

If you’re looking for a deep cut off El Camino, “Nova Baby” kicks ass. But really, the whole record does.

3. Thickfreakness (2003)

Their second record, Thickfreakness is raw, loud and you can tell it was recorded on a 8-track recorder. But it’s got that early Keys’ blues mix that sounds like its going to make your speakers explode. I love the track “Midnight in Her Eyes.”

4. Magic Potion (2006)

Magic Potion is like if you take the riffs and ideas of Thickfreakness and turn the fuzz down. Very similar garage rock feel, but with better recording methods. There isn’t really a variety of sound on this record, but what it does well is bluesy riffs and heavy drums. Love the track “You’re the One.”

5. Rubber Factory (2004)

Recorded on the second floor of an abandoned tire factory in Akron, this album is RAW, like most early Keys albums.

This album isn’t as guitar heavy as I maybe would *want* from their albums, but it’s undeniable that the sound on this record is great. The flow to this album might be unmatched out of anything they’ve made. One to check out is “10 A.M. Automatic”

6. ‘Let’s Rock’

The return record. I wasn’t personally sure how to feel about ‘Let’s Rock’ when it came out in 2019, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about it now. On one hand, it has some epic highs: “Shine a Little Light” is arguably the bands best opening track and “Lo/Hi” has that catchy riff to it to really hook radio audiences. On the other hand… some of the stuff on this album can be very “filler-ish.” The one consistent on this record: you could have told me they wrote/recorded with T.Rex on this record, and I would believe you. One to check out is “Shine a Little Light”

7. Attack and Release (2008)

This album… is the step towards what Brothers would eventually be. Attack and Release is the first album that The Black Keys worked on with a producer (Danger Mouse, who would follow on their next few records.) I think this album set the stones in the right order to create their most successful records, but there are a few misses here. “Remember When” is a really interesting idea, but the idea that 7 minutes of album time is taken up by one song played two different ways is… just not what I want. Check out “Strange Times” off this one!

8. The Big Come Up (2002)

At a tempo that can really only be explained as “breakneck speed,” the debut from The Black Keys is a pretty interesting one to check out. It seems that every song on the record speeds by, recorded by two sweaty twenty-somethings in a basement. There are no breaks on this record, just high tempo garage rock. “Heavy Soul” kicks ass (shoutout to the MacGruber soundtrack for this one.)

9. Ohio Players (2024)

Ohio Players has lots of collaborators, that’s for damn sure!

The latest release from the Keys sees Noel Gallagher, Beck, Dan the Automator join the fold to create a “party record” according to Patrick Carney. Personally, this album has too many cooks in the kitchen for me. I feel like the two “rap” tracks – “Paper Crown” and “Candy and Her Friends” really drag the album down in some spots, and could have been re-thought. A real bright spot is the new single “On the Game” written with Noel Gallagher.

10. Delta Kream (2021)

11. Chulahoma (2006)

The covers!

I love the commitment to their love of blues albums, and you can see it with Delta Kream and Chulahoma. There isn’t any original material here, but it’s a great listening experience; especially with…. a big “sandwich” or two. wink. Shoutout to Chulahoma for giving me my favourite ringtone of all time in “Meet Me in the City.”

12. Dropout Boogie (2022)

I’m not sure what turns me off about this record, but I’m not the biggest fan of it – maybe burnout as a fan? There are some great parts to this record, but it just wasn’t for me. BUT I did really enjoy the singles, especially “It Ain’t Over.”

13. Turn Blue (2014)

I appreciate what they were going for – changing the approach from Brothers and El Camino, going for something a little different. But it doesn’t hit. There are some bright spots, like the guitar solos on “Weight of Love” and the quirky “Fever,” but it just doesn’t have the appeal I would want. I can remember listening to it the first time, and thinking “I must have downloaded the wrong album from iTunes.” Not how you want to feel as a fan of a band.

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