Album review: The Black Keys, “Turn Blue”By Dylan Owens | May 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Coming off anÂ undisputed mainstream crossover, 2011â€™s â€śEl Camino,â€ť The Black Keys have reached that level that every band aspires to and every fan dreads. Once a best-kept blues-rock secret, guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney are now an arena-touring sensation.
The music, fans argue, is rarely the same after crossing over. But is that a bad thing? Do we want The Black Keys to release another handful of â€śRubber Factoryâ€ťs and â€śThickfreaknessâ€ťs? Surely any fan would be curious to find out where this last three years, an unprecedented gap between releases for the band, has taken their newly tightened pop rock, especially after its absurd marketing campaign. (I canâ€™t be the only one hoping for a Mike Tyson spoken-word cameo here.)
â€śTurn Blueâ€ť is hardly in the spirit of the Keysâ€™ newfound success. Itâ€™s a long play album, cohesive in its murk with few of the classic rock sashays ofÂ last album. If the success of â€śEl Caminoâ€ť was a surprise party, â€śTurn Blueâ€ť is a meditative decamp somewhere closer to their point of origin, far away from the hangers-on, but without nostalgic retreading.
Itâ€™s an understandable direction. While Carney seems in good spirits, Auerbach has gone through a very messy, very public divorce over the last year. Itâ€™s made for potent song fodder: much of â€śTurn Blueâ€ť is spent airing his dirty laundry. â€śThe house it burned, but nothing there was mine,â€ť Auerbach sings on lament â€śIn Our Prime,â€ť a reference to when his wife reportedly set fire to their Nashville home last year. â€śBullet In The Brainâ€ť is much less subtle: â€śBullet in the brain / I prefer than to remain the same.â€ť Point taken.
Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, returns to produce on the record, and his hand lends a predictable buff to the proceedings. The cheesy synth modulations and choral backing we heard so much of on the new Broken Bells record recurrs throughout, though a touch subtler here, limited toÂ choruses and fills for the most part (â€ś10 Lovers,â€ť â€śWeight of Loveâ€ť). Burton even snuck a sample on the record on â€śYear In Review,â€ť a sure sign of the times in the bandâ€™s trajectory.
Produced as it is, “Turn Blue”Â also contains moments of unfettered blues rock that rival anything inÂ their catalogue. Channeling Duane Allman, Auerbachâ€™s 12-bar guitar solos breath an unpredictable wiliness into the once-closed crevices between chorus and verse. Always an accent, never a crutch, itÂ won’tÂ swamp theÂ impatient ear. Instead, for songs as straightforward as â€śItâ€™s Up To You Now,â€ť it imbues wriggling energy, a viability in otherwise staid formulas.
With something old, something new and a whole lottaÂ blue, the Black Keysâ€™ â€śTurn Blueâ€ť stems from the dissolution of a wedding. But through the pain, Auerbach has crafted an unexpectedly potent requiem, and proved that through thirteen years together, he and Carney still have aÂ spark, and canÂ still make you smile.
Dylan Owens is Reverbâ€™s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazineÂ and the comment sections ofÂ WORLDSTARHIPHOP.