The Black Keys – “Turn Blue”

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Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Weight of Love” “Bullet in the Brain”

The Black Keys either like to take corners, or listen to criticism. Their last two albums – “Brothers” and “El Camino” – were distinctly different from what they’d done previously, and both suffered from it. “Brothers” had some quality songs, but it was too long and stuffed with slower tracks. After they found it difficult to play them live, they wrote more upbeat songs for “El Camino,” but they were so focused on the quality that it didn’t seem like they enjoying themselves. “Turn Blue,” however, sees the duo having fun again, and balancing loose and polished.

The first track on “Turn Blue,” called “Weight of Love,” is just ten seconds shy of hitting the seven minute mark. This is pretty different for band who is known for a quick and heavy blues sound. (Look through the Keys prior albums, it’s rare to find a song over five minutes). But it sets the tone of the album. The song is sleepy and a little psychedelic, a drastic departure from the old Keys. It isn’t fast, it’s much more of an extended way to open an album. But Dan Auerbach sure sounds like he’s having fun. The song, as do a few others later, has a distinct classic rock feel to it. Though always resembling garage bands of the 60′s, the Keys have usually stayed away from a classic rock sound. But it gets embraced on “Turn Blue,” and it’s a surprisingly welcome shift. Even the album’s hypnotic cover shows an embrace of a more suspended sound.

The album also benefits from having Danger Mouse on board, producing. He worked on “El Camino,” too, but the relationship between him and the band is more equal. Though still a duo, the band has added distinct bass parts that make a much groovier sound. It’s most evident on the title track and the hit “Fever,” but it adds a fun element throughout.

The album’s only real fault is a handful of songs that still sound a little too prepared. “Year in Review” sounds a little too strained, a little too rehearsed. “It’s Up to You Now,” meanwhile, feels so loose it almost sounds improvised. It’s also possibly the album’s heaviest track, with a booming drum intro. It’s very enjoyable, reminiscent of early Black Keys. They recapture a little of their earlier sound in some of the other heavier songs, like “Bullet in the Brain.” While “Tighten Up” and “Lonely Boy” were heavy in their own right, they felt more directed towards songwriting. The guitar fuzz and the loud, crushing drumming are more ambitious here, less constrained to an album format.

“Turn Blue” has many things working for it. It’s more energetic than “Brothers,” it’s more open than “El Camino,” and it’s just as wide and heavy as “Attack & Release.” A welcome groove makes the album more fun than what we’re used to, without sacrificing any of the volume. And on songs like “Weight of Love” and closer “Gotta Get Away,” it’s easy to tell the band is having fun with the record. “Turn Blue” doesn’t quite stand up to “Attack & Release” and “Thickfreakness,” but it is definitely one of the band’s better records.

If you like this, try: Given that most of the bands that resemble the Black Keys are equally famous, I’ll recommend another fuzzy, bluesy duo – The Creeping Ivies.

-By Andrew McNally

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