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New Music: The Black Keys – Turn Blue

The-Black-Keys-Turn-Blue

The Black KeysTurn Blue //

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Weight of Love”
“Turn Blue”
“Bullet in the Brain”

Album Highlights: Has there been a rock album in the last three years as highly anticipated as this one? Ever since lead singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney followed up three Grammys for 2010’s Brothers with four more for 2011’s El Camino, The Black Keys have been rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest darlings. But the road hasn’t always been so smooth for these two childhood friends from Akron, Ohio. Burned out and beaten up from their 130-date El Camino tour in 2012, the duo struggled last year to find the creative juices that propelled it to churn out six full-length albums and a handful of other recordings in less than a decade. That, though, was far from the only issue that the Keys have faced recently. For Auerbach, 2013 would turn out to be the hardest year of his life after a nasty divorce took its emotional and financial toll, leaving him unfit to work on new music at one point during the recording sessions for Turn Blue.

But for all the pain and suffering Auerbach endured in the last year, it also provided him with the fire to write arguably the Keys’ best album to date. Unlike its predecessor, Turn Blue strips some of the polish that coated El Camino from top to bottom, starting with the scintillating, seven-minute opener “Weight of Love,” as Auerbach channels his best David Gilmour impression in what almost sounds like Dark Side of the Moon 2.0. The epic track, which stands as one of the record’s best, helped the Keys uncover an entirely new sound for Turn Blue, one that has Danger Mouse’s paws all over it. With that said, it should be no surprise to find that there are flashes of Broken Bells, Electric Guest and even Portugal. The Man here (see “Turn Blue” and “Year in Review”), all bands that Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) has produced albums for in the past two years.

In more than just a metaphorical sense, Turn Blue also marks a return to the garage-heavy blues that propagated some of the Keys’ earlier releases, including 2004’s Rubber Factory and 2006’s Magic Potion. Yet, while those LPs are filled largely with grit and edge, Turn Blue doesn’t pigeonhole itself in the same way. What makes Turn Blue so special is not just Auerbach’s driving guitar riffs, his soulful vocal melodies or even his laid-back grooves, but all of those coming together at once for 45 minutes of pure sonic gold.

Album Lowlight: However much hype surrounded Turn Blue prior to its release, the Keys’ eighth studio album manages to live up to it and delivers even more. It’s hard to find much wrong from start to finish, a refreshing revelation in this day and age where three-minute pop hits repeatedly cloud the airwaves. Still, there’s a lot more to get behind than just the album’s first single “Fever,” a synth-laden number that’s soon to be on every bar’s playlist (if it isn’t already). These aren’t exactly tunes grounded in true love and infinite joy, but rather in the heart-wrenching reality of breakup. For Auerbach, writing Turn Blue offered him the opportunity to therapeutically confront his personal issues head on, and he does that no better than on the album’s title track in which he soothingly mouths, “I really don’t think you know / There could be hell below, below”.

Takeaway: The Black Keys were together for almost 10 years before they hit it big, but now that they’re here, there’s no turning back. Turn Blue is everything that you would expect from a band that continues push the envelope each time it steps into the studio. From the hip-hop flavor that colors “10 Lovers” to the Hammond organ that infiltrates “In Our Prime,” there are diamonds and pearls lined up and down the 11-track LP — even if the song titles aren’t all that welcoming at times (see “Bullet in the Brain”). But as often is the case, artists produce their best work in times of turmoil, and the same can certainly be said for these two seasoned vets.

~Josh Herwitt


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