The Black Keys, Turn Blue

The Black Keys have kept this new album Turn Blue hidden from the public eye for much of its existence, and likely on purpose. As big as they are, they couldn’t risk it falling into the wrong hands and leaking onto the internet before release. But more than that, I think they wanted to try the Beyonce method, where it was much of a shorter time between releasing a few singles and then the album coming out. The tactic definitely worked, as they’ve seen some great sales initially. Unfortunately, as before, they’ve decided to keep their distance from streaming services, similar to their big debacle with El Camino in 2012. But nevertheless, two years after the landmark and most popular album the duo has released, The Black Keys are back.

Turn Blue is much more of a groovy, centralized psychadelic record, and feels like it definitely could be better when you’re high. This is a stark departure from El Camino, and even from Brothers in 2010. Traces of both of those records (and even further back in their extensive catalog) are heard throughout the majority of Turn Blue; but for the most part, I was pleased to see a growth musically and sonically for nearly the whole of the album. The opener, “Weight of Love” is, simply put, the best track of the set. Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, the track really sets the tone for the album, and it can remind listeners of the longer tracks like “Goodbye Babylon” from Magic Potion, or the Junior Kimbrough cover “My Mind’s Been Ramblin’”, but not as much of those album cycles. If we’re doing any kind of comparing, Turn Blue is most remiscient of Brothers, which was more of a full album, with each piece working in connection to create the entire experience. That’s what’s seen with fluid nature of Turn Blue.

There’s certainly an uptick of electronic and synthesizer in much of Turn Blue, none more than the title track, featuring a grooving, yet purposefully focused bass line, which is followed up by the standard radio-single flair of “Fever”. Even if you can tell it’s the single when listening to the entire album, it fits right into the puzzle of Turn Blue, keeping the echoing, reverb, and delay of the rest of the cuts. It could even be compared to “Lonely Boy”, with much less of a rock feature. As far as the whole album goes, Auerbach’s solos are cleaner (save for a few moments like “It’s Up To You”) and more soaring, giving each cut that psychadelic vibe mentioned earlier. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney also turn up the soul and melody for a handful of pieces within Turn Blue, and none more than “Year In Review”; the track features an intricate percussion piece from Carney, complimented by the groovy “ooh ooh oohs” in the chorus.

The duo call on their Thickfreakness days when it comes to a longer, instrumental-break laden cut like “Bullet In The Brain”, and it’s a welcome addition to such a diverse, yet solid-feeling album. Percussion sticks to a simplistic, yet elegant feel on many cuts, solidifying Carney’s style on most of the record. Some of Auerbach’s best and most intricate solos appear on this album, setting it apart from other Black Keys albums. “In Our Prime” features solos with a ton of reverb and effects on them, but they’re still rad; Still face melting with a groove that (dare I say) can’t be matched. Rhythm changes abound but still keep this bluesy, rocking feel to it, and the track exemplifies the best of what The Black Keys do. “10 Lovers” is a reminder from producer Danger Mouse of his earlier project from 2014, Broken Bells’ “Leave It Alone”, while there’s a different feeling entirely on “Waiting On Words”. The track showcases Auerbach’s higher vocal abilities, which hasn’t happened since “Everlasting Light” on Brothers. It’s a rare treat, and fits in with the feeling of Turn Blue. In the rocking finale “Gotta Get Away”, the duo harkens back to their pop sensibilities of El Camino, while keeping this new psychadelic flavor present.

It’s encouraging to see a duo like The Black Keys continue to push the envelope with their music while keeping their roots in tact. They could have easily focused on the massive pop success of El Camino and made a continuation of that record. But like some of the best, they weren’t satisfied. They’re continuing to do what they love and they’re doing it how they want to do it. It might be quite a ways from old, bluesy standards of “Busted” and “Do The Rump”, but I’m more of a fan of this entertaining duo’s strategic plan to keep people guessing when it comes to the next Black Keys album. Bravo.

Justin Mabee