Words: Sean Black
Despite their commercial breakthrough, Brothers, happening way back in 2010, and their 2011 follow up, El Camino, I have never really paid much attention to The Black Keys. Other than their most successful single “Lonely Boy”, I hardly ever had the band in my playlists; and even then “Lonely Boy” became stale quickly.
Then we jump to 2014, to the bands latest release and I cannot stop listening. Turn Blue is not so much a new direction for The Black Keys; I like to think of it as more of a coming-of-age album. I get the feeling that this album is Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney’s (drums) collective return to roots, and simultaneous maturation.
The band has traded radio-friendly, individual rockabilly tracks for a bluesy, wholesome, all-encompassing piece of musical art. Turn Blue is masterfully composed and is arguably their best album to date. Kicking off with the seven-minute riff-stuffed and slow fire “Weight of Love”, you are forced into the new aesthetic of The Keys: thick, heavy, dirty, blue, and palpably tasty.
The song sets the tone of the entire album, a return to the basics of a two-man band. The sluggish drums from Carney and poignant pangs that Auerbach lets loose, give off a hefty ambiance that pulls you deeper into the couch and deeper into his high-pitched, solemn crooning. The riffs in this track are some of the best I’ve heard in a long while – guaranteed to please if you enjoy the soul-touching licks of Jimmy Page, and the like.
“Fever” is more of what we are used to with The Keys. It lives in that “Lonely Boy”-esque world; one of those singles that is supposed to stand-alone and hold its ground. It is still, however, one of the stand out songs of the album and fits in with the rest of the compilation. Along with remnants of the old Keys, there is greasiness about the track that makes the single impossible to wash out of your memory.
There are tracks on this album that will catch anybody who has listened to The Keys before. “Turn Blue” is flush with electronic additions that would be at home on any Daft Punk record. Hearing that you would never think it could work but it works. “I will remember the time when love would really glow/Like a dream I had before my world turned blue/And the light inside would only shine for you.” Murmured at you through slow, cool electronic weaves and pulsations of the track. It all compliments the aesthetic Turn Blue hopes to achieve.
As such you can see that this album is not a complete departure. All the best elements of the old Black Keys are there, along with the industry savoir-faire of a band that has been around the block. There is just enough change in the sound to please die-hards and to attract new listeners alike. Turn Blue is what any self-respecting band hopes for: progressing their sound but keeping their core audience happy.
Turn Blue is The Black Keys showing the fear of taking the risk to create their own unique sound, and succeeding every step of the way. Auerbach’s well-publicised divorce back in 2013 infused the album with its moody disposition and ensured its permeation throughout; the album is soulful, expressive, and tangibly plush. You can tell that this is a band that has truly evolved. And I like that. And I like The Black Keys. A lot.