Album review: The Black Keys, Turn Blue

Audio included.

Posted by Cody Smith on Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 12:14 PM

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The Ohio-bred duo-led garage blues darlings dive more heavily into the psychedelic rock and soul aesthetics they'd been dabbling in of late with this year's Turn Blue (ATO Records). While the upbeat anthems of albums like El Camino and Brothers are largely absent, the classic Keys’ melancholy remains in Dan Auerbach’s lyrics and delivery, and the material is some of the Black Keys' strongest to date.

Straight off his work on Broken Bells’ latest record, prolific producer Danger Mouse returns to man the boards on Turn Blue, his signature technique (gospel-style vocals layered over big choruses, crisp and grooving production qualities) meshing well with Auerbach’s velvety smooth yet sullen vocals.

The 11-track set kicks off with “Weight of Love,” a rather moody, trippy, down-tempo number that sets the tone of the album. Auerbach’s futile pleas for his partner to persevere through the pain sail over sci-fi humming that rises between distorted bass and soft tinkling bellchimes bookended by extended ‘60s-vintage guitar solos. “Year in Review” alludes to Auerbach’s divorce with ex-wife Stephanie Gonis, the song’s theme of self-destructive and decaying relationships reinforced with lyrics like “Why you always want to love the ones who hurt you? / Then break down when they go and desert you, no, oh no, it’s so hard to let them go,” and set against ‘70s-vibing cowbell-accompanied instrumentals. There are even a few trademark Black Keys head-boppers, including lead single “Fever,” its unexpected dose of indie-pop synths driving the track as much as the song’s thundering rhythms and Auerbach’s ghostly reverb-effected vocals.

Granted, Turn Blue has its share of filler and lagging moments. But Danger Mouse’s attention to detail and risk-taking paired with strong songwriting overall elevate it from potential disaster to welcome departure.

Critics' Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

The Black Keys stop at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Tues., Dec. 16; St. Vincent opens. Tickets are $48-$91 and can be purchased here.

"Turn Blue"

"Fever"

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