Turn Blue, the latest release from the Akron, Ohio duo The Black Keys, might be their most sonically diverse album yet. The band’s usual straight-forward blues-inspired rock takes a backseat to something more interesting. This collection of songs rises above the “verse-chorus-verse”, radio friendly tracks on their previous albums.
The album’s title is a nod to Ghoulardi, the former host of WJW-TV’s Shock Theater in Cleveland; famous for his catch phrase “turn blue”. The album art—designed by Michael Carney, brother of the band’s drummer Patrick—is reminiscent of Dr. Mindbenders mind control device in G.I. Joe. It actually became painful to stare at the spiraling cover or read the liner notes.
This record shows the clear influence of producer Danger Mouse, a.k.a Brian Burton of Broken Bells. This is the band’s fourth collaboration with Burton, and the different sound signals a brave new chapter in the Black Keys saga. At first listen, this record sounds like the soundtrack to a spaghetti-Western, a Tarantino film, or even vintage Neil Young, but as yet as Dan Auerbach kicks off the first guitar solo it takes on another form and transitions into a resonate odyssey . Patrick Carney’s drumming builds, after a series of steady rolls, and flows into a tight-locked groove that sets the tone for the entire album.
The opening track “Weight of Love” is nearly seven minutes of what can only be described as pure psychedelic soul. The guitar tone Auerbach chose to use on this album is a rounder hybrid. Auerbach’s guitar has a rolled-back tone that finds itself somewhere in the middle of Cream-era Clapton and vintage David Gilmore. This is strong departure from the knife-edged twang that defined the band’s earlier releases.
“Fever”, the first single, is a keyboard driven number with a happier sound than the lyrical content expresses. Most of the album has a sad undertone, an expression of Auerbach’s own heartbreak as he recorded the album, but the songs never become too depressing to listen to.
The album closes with the road song “Gotta Get Away”, which sounds more like “classic” Black Keys than anything else on the record. This is not Rubber Factory, nor should it be. Turn Blue shows The Black Keys truly growing, and if that drives some fans away, it will surely drive more to them as well.
Turn Blue is now available on Nonesuch Records. Click here to purchase.
7.0 TOTAL SCORE
A veritable rapscallion and modern-day vagabond, TJ Spurgin is currently based is The Midwest. A life-long student of Traditional American Music, he cites Chuck Berry and Marty McFly's version of Johnny B Goode for sparking his initial interest in music. As a teenager, he discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, and The Byrds, along with The Flying Burrito Brothers, whom have all shaped and inspired his writing.