Turn Blue

The Black Keys

Nonesuch, 2014


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The dramatic, wailing, Neil Young-esque "Weight Of Love" kicks off the Black Keys' newest album and immediately signifies that this will be a far different experience than El Camino or even Brothers. Those last two albums brought the Keys to a broader national audience, who will likely be surprised by the more pensive, psychedelic sound of Turn Blue.

Longtime Keys fans, however, know that Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach have gone down this road before, not just in scope but in the spirit of trying something different, of continually evolving their sound and branching out their songwriting. It's what makes each new Keys album an experience, and you can't say that about many bands these days.

The intent, according to interviews the duo gave ahead of time, was to record a headphone album that would grow with repeated listens, and by and large that is the end result. The music uses the Keys' usual garage-blues-grunge-rock foundation (which is rare among active bands; you almost always know a Keys song even before the vocals start) but slows the tempo and adds on layers of sound, creating a dichotomy of songs that both float and pound. The my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 El Camino hit "Gold On The Ceiling" used a similar feel, and it seems much of this album was built around the approach to that song.

If said approach sounds similar, it's because Pink Floyd used to do it, and parts of Turn Blue draw from Dark Side of the Moon, although elements of Young, the Alan Parsons Project, bluesman Joe Bonamassa and a bit of '80s post punk (The Cure, mostly) all seep into the songwriting. A goofy Farfisa organ adds a touch of absurdity to the otherwise standard "Fever," for example, while Auerbach's background guitar flourishes and a loping yet compelling drumbeat propel "In Time."

"Weight Of Love" is a highlight, using a long introduction and well-placed guitar breaks to tell the story, while the title cut alternates between bluesy verses and a chorus straight off Arcade Fire's Reflektor, backed with a staccato one-note bass riff. It is many degrees away from "Lonely Boy" and even farther from "Howlin' For You," but it is very much the same band, and it is just as good.

The disc is at its weakest when it floats a little too much into the ether, such as on the moribund "Waiting On Words" and forgettable "Year In Review." Better is the fuzzed-out Bo Diddley riff and beat that form the backbone of "It's Up To You Now" and the early Floyd-driven "In Our Prime," which has a bit of the Syd Barrett weirdness but still rocks, especially in the solo that seems pulled from Manfred Mann's cover of "Blinded By The Light."

And then...the closing track "Gotta Get Away" brings the entire ship back to Earth with a straight-up party rock single of the kind the Keys can now write in their sleep. It draws from the Steve Miller Band, Paul McCartney and Auerbach's own playbook, and the end result is a toe-tapping headbopping slice of fun that says all it needs to say in three minutes. It's at odds with the rest of the album, but it seems to signify that Turn Blue was an experiment, a chance to lose yourself in the music for 40 minutes and then snap back to reality. It's a brilliant move and a fine song and it pretty much proves the Keys can do anything.

The only problem with an album of this nature is that, by virtue of its design, it requires careful and multiple listens, and working that hard on a Black Keys album is not something people sign up for. So those who came on board a few years ago will miss the immediacy of those more fun tracks (save for "Gotta Get Away") and those not inclined to focus on an album may not find themselves spending much time with this one. But when they do, they will be rewarded.

Rating: B

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