Album review: The Black Keys, 'Turn Blue'

Contributing Music WriterMay 12, 2014 

By now, The Black Keys have nothing left to prove. Coming to national prominence as an ultra-primal, blues-saturated guitar-and-drums duo, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney opened their ears and minds to the input of outside producers, expanded their sound to welcome all kinds of pop accents and became big leaguers with a sound that was alternately joyous, brutish and psychedelic.

Now Auerbach and Carney gives us Turn Blue, an orgy of crunchy, beat-heavy rockers and beautifully warped reflections that collectively offer a primer on what makes the band so continually fascinating.

To start, Turn Blue inverts what many might view as its opening and closing songs. It kicks off with nearly seven minutes of Weight of Love, a luxurious jam that begins with the cool sway of acoustic guitar and vibraphone before grooving along with the steady, ragged rhythm of an electric Neil Young record from the mid-'70s. Then the music explodes with an extended blast of Auerbach's guitar work and a haunting vocal passage that uses a backup chorus in the same manner that the Keys' superb album El Camino did a few years ago.

It's also the kind of anthem a band works up to, the sort of pièce de résistance that is usually saved for last. Here, Auerbach and Carney toss it out like a dare, an outrageously confident indulgence that forces a rethink for fans won over by the immediacy and musical economy of El Camino or its equally lean predecessor, Brothers.

But then as Turn Blue starts to wind down, the Keys kick back into action. The album-closing Gotta Get Away is a royal kiss-off with a killer guitar hook, an almost giddy pop chorus ("I went from San Berdoo to Kalamazoo, just to get away from you") and the kind of block-party spirit that would have been a proud, enticing intro to any serious garage rock album. But on Turn Blue, it's the parting shot.

What's in between isn't exactly filler.

The title tune is a pop cauldron of a song where after-hours soul (complete with Auerbach crooning in a near falsetto) swirl around in an orchestral frenzy. The current single Fever, an electro-dance beat manifesto, follows to keep the party moving. And as the record heads into the home stretch, In Our Prime lights the fuse to an autumnal reverie that ripens into a molten guitar solo by Auerbach.

Turn Blue also reteams the Keys with producer Danger Mouse, whose presence on songwriting and keyboards is significant. But everything, even Auerbach's most open-faced guitar adventures, blend into a singular, magnificent sonic joyride.

Cue up summer, everyone. The party album of the season has arrived.

Note: The Black Keys will play the KFC Yum Center in Louisville on Sept. 10. Tickets, $32 to $71, go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday through Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com. The Bowling Green band Cage the Elephant will open.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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