Album Review: The Black Keys “Turn Blue” (2014)

The Black Keys have done it again. Wow, they truly are experiencing an amazing run of form musically and have completed a hat-trick of fantastic albums with their latest release Turn Blue. This comes on the back of two of their best records, 2010’s Brothers and 2011’s El Camino. After changing things up musically on those last two albums, bringing in soul, pop, glam and R&B influences, a move which is fair to say alienated many of their traditional fan base, the band have again changed things up on this album, which too my ears sounds unlike anything else they have done.

Turn Blue has to be the grooviest album the Keys have recorded yet and has to dance written all over it that is if you can take your eyes off the brilliantly mesmerising album cover. Turn Blue has a strong soul and R&B vibe across its eleven tracks, as well as a slightly subtle hip-hop influence, a stylistic direction that is largely thanks to Danger Mouse who is again producing. Danger Mouse’s influence on here is significant and he puts his production stamp across the whole album, dictating the musical sound and direction of many of the tracks. He gives the material a slickness that is far removed from the dirty blues-rock of the early Keys albums, but it works well for the soul/R&B vibe the band has going on here. He also contributes to what is a psychedelic rock direction for the band on several tracks, with explosive guitars and wailing keyboards. This man certainly knows no bounds when it comes to production and there are definitely no boundaries on here. Dan Auerbach again is the showpiece, with all due respect to Patrick Carney’s powerful drumming, and it is his dirty energised guitar and falsetto vocals which dominate the tracks on the album much like as they did on El Camino. It is again these features of the Keys music which make it so good to listen to, music which at times sounds quite gorgeous like a good old 60s and 70s R&B, or soul track.

As for the tracks, well there are some goodies on here, some that are already surely up there with the bands best work. The album kicks off with the fantastic epic “Weight of Love” a psychedelic trip of blazing guitars and soulful vocals. This song is a great way to kick off the album, especially when it begins with two minutes of swirling Pink Floydish Dark Side of The Moon guitar before any vocals hit in. Definitely up there in the band’s canon. This is followed by “In Time” a psychedelic soul track that features Auerbach’s now trademark falsetto vocals and a pounding drum backbeat. Its more psychedelic rock on the title track “Turn Blue” which again retains the two styles most prominent on this album, soul and psychedelia and does it well, while “Fever” the first single, is more like the garage rock in a pop style seen on El Camino, but it still kicks some and is also now accompanied by a snappy video which features Auerbach playing a preacher in a church. “Year in Review” is another storming soul track with a massive rhythm section, complete also with female backing vocals that give the song a modern Motown feel, one of the standout tracks on the album. This is followed by “Bullet in the Brain”, another psychedelic track which has a Cream feel to it and would have sounded good in 67. Then there is “It’s Up to You Now” which although has a rockabilly/Bo Diddley jam going on, is my least favorite track on here and strikes me as being a bit of a studio warm-up track rather than an album track. Heading into the back end of the album “Waiting on Words” is probably the most unalike Black Keys song of all time and is a bit of a slow pop ballad, which although pleasant enough does not really possess any notable redeeming features. “10 Lovers” on the other hand is another brilliant track that has been kidnapped by Danger Mouse and his production wizardry. This track features a pounding bass line, something that features strongly on this album more so than their other work. The album closes out with “In Our Prime” a Lennonesque track which concludes with a minute plus guitar solo, and heavy rock and roller “Gotta Get Away” featuring a slide guitar solo that would have made Elmore James proud.

So, in conclusion, I believe this is quite a massive artistic statement by the Black Keys and showcases their diversity as a music act. They could go back to being a blues-rock duo and I do hope one day they return to their roots, but I am not sure that would entirely fit in with what they are trying to achieve at the moment. Turn Blue is a very eclectic album full of surprises and very good moments and again represents another step forward for the band after two very good albums. Early reviews have been very positive from the hard to please music critic establishment and I have a slight gut feeling that in ten years or so people will look back at this period for the Black Keys and conclude that they were very much at the peak of their career as one of the twenty-first century’s great rock bands.


– Sam

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