May 4 2014

Turn Blue marks, in a way, a return to the old and an adventure into the new for the Black Keys. The Akron, Ohio band returns once more, and ramps up the volume, and they do it with a sound that hasn’t been heard since 2004’s Rubber Factory (my favourite Black Keys album). Turn Blue opens with seven minutes of slow burn and eccentric fury. The first track,  Weight of Love, is the sort of uproar most bands would save for a big finish, but The Black Keys start off strong with Carney’s unhurried John Bonham-like rolls. On the track, we once again hear the clattering loud cymbals and sounds that are classic Black Keys, a sound lost to more rhythm and blues and soft blues orientation of Brothers.


The return of Led Zeppelin-infused drumming and guitar comes with a unofficial new addition to the band – long time Black Keys producer Brian Burton is practically a bandmate here, playing keyboards and co-writing all 11 songs (and co-producing all but two). He is also an expert magnifier and coloring agent, the likely hand behind the croaking electronics in Turn Blue and the fattened thwack in Year in Review. But the Black Keys are still a two-man band, and the Carney-Auerbach connection is stronger than ever.


The risks the band takes in this album are unparalleled, with the organs and the funk-like bass line in 10 Lovers. A serious bass-line is laid down over tight drums and a Hammond organ led melody line. But evidently he’s still a touch worried about the object of his affections: “If I find another love, they must be forever true,” he sings before a breakdown perfectly primed for a live performance and a stadium sized clap along. “She’s alright, but you’re all wrong,” he adds, obviously feeling some severe man-pain, as the tune skips from major to minor and back again.


With intros sounding like Pink Floyd, drumrolls sounding like Zeppelin, and Dan Auerbach’s vocal range seriously improving, The Black Keys are doing great. I’d like to see them simplify the music a little and go back to a guitar-drum combo with absolutely no frills. While they’ve gone the entirely different direction from what I wished, it still came as an enjoyable surprise.