Album review: The Black Keys – Turn Blue

The Ohio duo's chart-topping new album is their most musically accomplished.
The Ohio duo Dan Auerbach, front, and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys. Danny Clinch
The Ohio duo Dan Auerbach, front, and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys. Danny Clinch

The Black Keys

Turn Blue

(Nonesuch)

Three stars

After releasing a slew of smoking-hot blues albums, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, known as The Black Keys, acknowledged the need to expand their sound.

Collaborating with the producer Danger Mouse from their fifth album, 2008’s Attack & Release, each subsequent offering saw the Ohio duo strive for a grander sound.

The gambit paid off: 2011’s smash hit El Camino was undoubtedly a bullseye, as it perfectly synthesised The Black Keys’ hard-nosed blues approach with new-found stadium-ready choruses.

In their new album, Turn Blue, the duo have foregone El Camino’s hookiness, but use its creatively liberating spirit as the foundation.

Once again helmed by Danger Mouse, the eighth album is a swirling trip that caresses the ear as opposed to shaking the hips.

The near-seven-minute opener Weight of Love is a case in point; it tastefully unfolds from an acoustic intro, then is layered steadily with nocturnal keyboards, sighing guitars and the first of many choruses featuring backing vocals by a choir of female gospel singers.

It’s this emphasis on texture rather than rhythm that makes the album equally compelling and frustrating.

The single Fever, while immaculately produced, should have been a ripper. What was meant to be a disco-stomper ends up lacklustre. Carney’s normally petulant drumming style is strangely subdued, while Auerbach’s guitar, normally the source of the group’s signature grit, is reduced to some staccato riffs. The track lacks the sheer-minded commitment that The Black Keys normally deliver, as if they weren’t convinced of the tune in the first place.

The plodding Waiting on Words seems like the boys were so in love with their own psychedelic trip that they forgot to add a hook or two to allow us to also enjoy the ride.

But when the focus returns to the songs, as opposed to the way they sound, Turn Blue becomes arresting. The simmering Year in Review has an aching vocal melody, with Auerbach really putting his heart on his sleeve, while the hazy, piano-led In Our Prime sounds like a sincere John Lennon tribute by Syd Barrett.

The ruminative album ends with the sprightly Gotta Get Away – its euphoric, classic-rock style will surely feature in countless car commercials.

With Turn Blue representing the band’s most technically proficient release, Danger Mouse’s mandate has been fulfilled – and it’s perhaps time to sever that relationship.

After all, the thrill of The Black Keys lies in their primal immediacy. Hopefully, now that they’ve got their “musician’s album” out of the way, the duo can ditch the bells and whistles and get back to basics.

sasaeed@thenational.ae

Published: May 26, 2014 04:00 AM

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