Album Review: “Turn Blue” by The Black Keys

Black Keys members, from left, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach.
Photo used with permission from Danny Clinch via Warner Bros Records.
Black Keys members, from left, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach. Photo used with permission from Danny Clinch via Warner Bros Records.

Eighth album from blues-rock duo exhibits psychedelic influences paired with a more melancholy vibe.

Black Keys members, from left, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach.  Photo used with permission from Danny Clinch via Warner Bros Records.
Black Keys members, from left, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach.
Photo used with permission from Danny Clinch via Warner Bros Records.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
Release Date: May 12, 2014

Once upon a time, the Black Keys was the best-kept garage rock secret in America. The Ohio duo, consisting of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, came to prominence with 2010’s “Brothers” and its follow-up “El Camino” released in 2011. With catchy hooks and a sound drawn from American roots music — rhythm and blues, soul and a healthy dose of good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll — they have gone from recording demos in Carney’s garage to selling out in stadiums nationwide. As the Black Keys continue to refine its sound, TIME observes that the two have become “so good at what they do that they [are] no longer anyone’s secret.”

The Black Keys’ latest release, “Turn Blue,” encapsulates its signature sound but with a shift in mood that is darker than its previous releases. There’s an air of melancholy created by the sweeping minor chords and Auerbach’s reverb-heavy vocals, paired with Carney’s steady, yet gentle drumming. The tempo has slowed down from their “Lonely Boy” days, as indicated by the nearly seven-minute long opener, “Weight of Love.”  Led Zeppelin-esque melodies pulsate along with Auerbach’s echoing voice as he warns the listener, “Don’t give yourself away to the weight of love.”

The album was produced by Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, the eclectic producer who has worked with everyone from Gorillaz to CeeLo Green (the latter resulting in the critically-acclaimed Gnarls Barkley project). At times, the album evokes another Danger Mouse project: Electric Guest’s “Mondo” album. Burton has a tendency to gravitate toward certain embellishments — subtle strings, hazy keyboards and vocals that oscillate between lower ranges and falsetto, all of which are found on title track, “Turn Blue.”The tempo quickens on tracks like “Fever,” the lead single, and “Bullet in the Brain.” The Farfisa organ on “Fever” is funky; paired with an infectious beat, it evokes The Zombies, circa 1964. With wailing guitar solos and heavy reverb, “Bullet in the Brain” gives the album a touch of psychedelia, calling to mind the nouveau-psychedelic acts MGMT and Tame Impala.

Overall, “Turn Blue” provides a full-album experience; the songs are cohesive, creating a mood that lasts throughout. It is slow and steady, measured and contemplative. Some critics have commented on the low energy of the album in comparison to “Brothers” and “El Camino.” However, the Keys’ minimalist approach must not be mistaken as it losing touch with its own sound. The blues-rock is still there, although refined and adapted for the constantly changing musical landscape of today.

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