Childhood friends from Ohio, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney (a.k.a. The Black Keys) return with their eighth studio album, “Turn Blue”, the first since 2011’s massive-selling “El Camino”. They team up with producer Dangermouse once more and, given their meteoric rise over the last few years, the public weight of expectation on this release is arguably higher than any other in the band’s history. Excellent lead single, “Fever”, a solid, catchy groove with an infectious riff that comes across like a minor key “Enola Gay” (Orchestral Movements In The Dark), whetted the appetite and to finally have the album on the doorstep felt unusually exciting; yes, I was looking forward to this one. The big question, of course, is does it deliver? My opinion would be yes, absolutely, it’s superb, but it’s also a little different and quite refreshingly so. There are an eclectic mix of styles, including a few that hardcore fans may raise an eyebrow at and a few songs with a beautifully expansive feel to them; this is a bold release which re-defines who The Black Keys are, without completely scrapping the blueprint for the band. It’s a distinct progression and it works, although people who enjoy the band primarily for their sweaty, claustrophobic blues riffs may not appreciate everything on offer here, so it pays to be open-minded before listening and, be warned, buying “Turn Blue” purely on the strength of “Fever” may be setting you up for a fall.
The choice tracks from “Turn Blue” are plentiful. Album opener, “Weight Of Love”, which sees a sprinkle of Pink Floyd being added to the mix, is a genuine soulful stunner, with some very nice work on the bass and a thrilling twin-lead guitar solo towards the climax of the track; it’s one hell of a way to announce a new direction. With a bold beat, and a soulful feel, it doesn’t take long for “In Time” to work its way under your skin; it’s the kind of track they could have written for Amy Winehouse to perform, if she was still with us. The chilled out title track, “Turn Blue” has a riff like the chorus of New Order’s “Shellshock”, (if Barney and the lads had been smoking a ton of weed, that is) and the first trio of tracks give the album a distinctly laid-back vibe. Apart from the irresistible “Fever”, the next notable song on “Turn Blue” is the tom-tom heavy, typical Black Keys fayre, “It’s Up To You Now”, which was one of three songs recorded during the initial sessions for the album, which were, essentially, brought to a close prematurely because the band were unhappy with the results, apart from the tracks which appear here (“Fever”, “It’s Up To You Now” and “Getta Get Away”). The difference between these three tracks and the rest of the album is certainly noticeable and the decision to reconvene a few month later definitely brought markedly different results.
“Waiting On Words”, with it’s delicate flavour and Hammond-enriched sound is a little slice of bliss, before we’re treated to the beat heavy, synth-laden “10 Lovers” which has a big chorus and, as it progresses, develops a sublimely epic, widescreen sound. “In Our Prime”, which begins with a gentle piano motif, takes an interesting musical turn and then culminates in a prominent, expressive guitar solo as the track fades out; it’s a slow-burning classic and one of my personal favourites. The most controversial composition on the album is the last one, “Gotta Get Away”, a relatively straight-forward country rock track which could pass for “Riot City Blues”-era Primal Scream. Whilst perfectly listenable, it just doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of the album, as eclectic as it is. I don’t believe I am being very brave by predicting that “Turn Blue” will feature heavily in many ‘end of year’ lists. It has the right blend of mass appeal together with the integrity of artists producing great music for the sake of it, the production is nothing less than excellent and the contemporary feel is augmented by nods to some of the classic genres of the seventies and eighties. It’s a satisfying piece of work that, whilst not every single track is a stone-clad classic, has enough moments of genius to be declared a quietly great album and should keep The Black Keys’ reputation as one of rock’s most interesting and popular bands firmly in tact.
The Black Keys’ “Turn Blue” is out now on Nonesuch Records.
Andy Sweeney, 12th May, 2014.