Having changed their style again, Ohio duo The Black Keys are back with the follow-up to 2011’s El Camino. The lead single Fever was released in March and reached number one in the US Alternative and Rock Airplay charts. Turn Blue is highly anticipated due to the three year gap between albums but current Black Keys fans should beware that their loveable rock ‘n’ roll sound is long gone.
The duo appear to adopt an unusual method of recording albums, as like El Camino, they entered the studio for Turn Blue without any songs written. Singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach said “Every morning we got to the studio, we’d start from scratch and by the end of the day we’d have a new song and that was really it.”. Like El Camino, Turn Blue was co-produced and co-written with Gnarls Barkley’s Danger Mouse, who may be responsible for The Black Keys’ new electronic sound.
Certainly the main song of note is the six minute long opening track Weight Of Love. A two minute long instrumental intro consists of a slow country twang, whistles, twinkling chimes and a gentle drum. Along comes the piercing notes of a bluesy guitar and a lazy trudging bass. The dreamy rhythm and resonating backing vocals are catchy and beautiful, gently easing you into the quirky modern-sounding album.
Typical strong drums and bass lines can be heard on the title track, Fever and Year In Review. Turn Blue has a simple hook that repeats throughout and creates a chilled-out atmosphere that is perfect for lazy summer days. It finishes with an injection of electronica and a final hit of bass. Big summer single Fever has an incredibly catchy electronic bounce on the chorus and a thumping beat with easy-to-grasp lyrics, so you’ll soon be singing along and tapping your feet. Year In Review is another chill out festival song with electronic sighs and tones and breathy indie vocals. Ghostly echoes in the back of the vocals are another recurring motif on the album and they add an other-worldly feel to the songs on which they occur. The bluesy guitar solo towards the end is a nostalgic nod to their previous work.
Bullet In The Brain and Waiting On Words possess the spaced-out vocals that their new style encompasses. The former is based on a soft beat and features electronic chimes and a chilled acoustic riff. Tinkling keys and ringing riff appear in the second half and echoes of their indie selves become more apparent. The repetitive lyrics hammer home the message and actually take on the form of becoming the bullet in your brain. Their echoing vocals add a whimsical, casual slant that is common on Turn Blue. Waiting On Words has a light simple riff and ethereal dreamy vocals. The soft piano is haunting with the calm vocal delivery until the drum kicks in halfway through, when the song becomes quirky and a little dark. The heavier drums towards the end provide a dramatic definite stop.
Perhaps the song that is most like their earlier work is 10 Lovers. A funky bass, steady drum and a retro pop feel has notes of their former style but the screeching electronic riff and soundscape in the middle drives it into the present day. It’s an atmospheric summer track with an ethereal chorus which will be a favourite with fans of the band’s Brothers album.
The last two tracks on the album couldn’t be more contrasting. In fact In Our Prime, the penultimate track, was originally the last but the band decided that they wanted to end on a high. In Our Prime is a quirky downbeat track with dreary vocals and a melancholy blues riff and steady piano. Closing track Gotta Get Away is a cheerful beat, a funky country riff and an Americana-filled summer track. It’s a great choice for putting on while driving down open roads, singing along to the catchy melody.
If you love The Black Keys as a retro-inspired rock band, then Turn Blue isn’t going to be your favourite album. However, if you’re ready for a new stage in their career then this is the perfect summer record for you. From the funk of the days of rock ‘n’ roll to the futuristic tones of later decades, The Black Keys are evolving with every album. Who knows what we’ll get in another few years?