Release Date: May 13, 2014
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Cries of ‘sell out’ could be heard everywhere following the release of El Camino in 2011, with The Black Keys’ staunchest fans the band’s loudest critics as Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney deviated from the soulful blues rock of earlier albums. The band’s most commercially successful work was more down to evolution than purposeful channelling of their sound towards a larger audience though, despite co-producer Danger Mouse’s presence. But now Brian Burton’s input has increased substantially, subsequently shaping much of eighth studio album Turn Blue with his latest production and keyboard contributions both being far more considerable than before.
Turn Blue, the Black Keys' eighth studio album, opens with seven minutes of slow burn and eccentric fury. "Weight of Love" is the sort of uproar most bands would save for a big finish. But the Keys – singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney – and their co-producer Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, show their nerve upfront in a mounting tension of acoustic guitar and painted-desert ambience, cut open by Auerbach's machete-treble twang and battered by Carney's unhurried John Bonham-like rolls.
For their new album, the Black Keys stopped and smelled the asphalt. It’s a dusty, slow and heavy work, a moody contrast to the fleet sound that brought the Keys their greatest wealth and fame on the 2011 Grammy-grabbing “El Camino.” By their hard standards, it’s a clear turn toward the contemplative. Tellingly, the time between the release of the last album and this one — three years — leaves a greater gap in the Keys’ catalogue than any since they began putting out music, back in 2002.
The Black Keys' garage-blues origins were self-consciously provincial, seeking an authenticity bordering on fundamentalism. Their last two albums drew in more distant and disparate musical sources, and, with a little help from producer and collaborator Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, Turn Blue achieves a fully mature, cosmopolitan polish. Little chance remains of the Black Keys being pegged as a White Stripes cover band.
Like corporate drones determined to cut loose every third Friday whether they need to or not, the Black Keys take the time to schedule semi-regular journeys into the unknown. Turn Blue, the 2014 successor to their down-and-dirty international blockbuster El Camino, is one of those trips, a churning psychedelic excursion that slowly pulses in any color you like. Those colors spread out slow and low as Turn Blue gets underway via "Weight of Love," sounding not at all unlike Pink Floyd's "Breathe in the Air," a deliberate comparison the Keys return to often throughout the album, letting it decorate fleeting moments and infuse full songs ("Bullet in the Brain," the first single pulled from the LP, hits many of the same notes).
Reading Jack White's angry, mid-divorce email to his estranged wife Karen Elson was not a hugely edifying experience – pruriently earwigging other people's personal misery seldom is – but the leaked document at least contained one illuminating fact. Among his panoply of complaints, White seemed particularly upset that Elson was planning to send their children to a school attended by the daughter of Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, or as White referred to him, "that asshole". After protesting about having to sit next to Auerbach on a "kid's chair" – let the parent who's never complained about enduring a nativity play with their buttocks painfully arranged on a seat designed for a five-year-old cast the first stone – White bemoaned "other people trying to lump us in together".
With Turn Blue, The Black Keys’ highly-anticipated eighth album, it’s tempting to zoom in on a single turning point in the Akron duo’s timeline to figure out how they made it here. The obvious choice is 2010’s dusky Brothers, vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney’s actual big come-up, eight years after debuting with The Big Come Up in 2002. The thing about the Keys, though, is that they still sounded like themselves even when their choruses became exponentially more robust.
The Black Keys’ eighth studio album, Turn Blue, opens with the six-minute “Weight of Love,” a spiral staircase of psychedelia that slowly crescendos into outer space. Dark blasts of tremolo, hazy washes of synth, a sauntering riff reminiscent of mid-period Pink Floyd—it’s a far cry from their scuzzy blues-rock roots. When the duo (singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, drummer Patrick Carney) first teased their new LP as a “headphones album,” this bold, unexpected epic must’ve been fresh on their minds.
The Black Keys are long past the time when they are going to catch anyone by surprise. Turn Blue marks the band’s eighth studio album and the first since 2011’s El Camino, an album full of more radio ready rock hits than nearly any in recent memory. This time around though, the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney seem content to let their record unfold more gradually.
It’s been three years since the last album from The Black Keys, the longest gap between records for the Akron, Ohio blues-rock duo, but there’s certainly been plenty to keep frontman Dan Auerbach busy in the meantime. He's been involved in two divorces – his own, marked by a rather surreal battle for Bob Dylan’s hair; and Jack White’s. And he's been producing for artists as diverse as Lana Del Ray and Dr John.
On their eighth record in 13 years, the Black Keys sound about as far removed from their early days as drum'n'guitar garage rockers as can be. Over the past three or four records, and under the creative gaze of producer Danger Mouse, they have developed into something rather more complex than their first few releases might've suggested. Now an arena-ready band, the Black Keys have found innovative ways to push their blues-based songs into grander, more expansive territory.On Turn Blue, they've dared to straddle the divide between the slickness of pop radio and the necessary roughness of garage rock, squaring a circle that has bedevilled so many bands before them.
Turn Blue I thought I'd be fine never hearing another Black Keys album again. When I was first introduced to their blues-infused indie rock nearly a decade ago, I couldn't get enough of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney crunching through raunchy riffs with a dusty, vintage swagger. But after awhile they started to wear out a little. Even through their recent Danger Mouse-produced albums, I found myself less interested in whatever they offered.
Somehow, with limited means and while under seemingly constant barrage from naysayers who would mockingly paint them as blues revivalists, copycats or – worse still – sell outs, The Black Keys became enormous. But Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, now festival headliners, and increasingly augmented by bass, marimba, strings and – gulp – keyboards, don’t ever seem to have cared. On their eighth album, they have found a soul that can only come from bitter experience.
Platinum-shiny, Grammy-snaffling, the Black Keys' last album, El Camino, effectively weaponised the duo's slinky blues rock. The Ohioan band had always been retro; they had long had tunes – at the very least, since Attack & Release (2008) poured more R&B oil into the Black Keys' garage blues engine. For El Camino, Dan Auerbach, Patrick Carney and longtime producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton reformulated the band's strengths into a series of muscular uppercuts – a punchiness that did not sacrifice their appeal to the hips.
Swagger is a trait that has long been associated with rock ‘n roll. Ever since the characters that influenced Grease’s Danny Zuko and his leather-jacketed delinquent pals in the 1950s, there’s a grand assumption that rockers are, well, ballsy. And yet, with the worldwide smash that was 2011’s ‘El Camino’, countless prime-time television appearances, main stage festival sets and the complete ubiquity of its lead single, ‘Lonely Boy’ throughout that year and beyond, The Black Keys never quite seemed to have it.
This may be a weird statement to make about one of North America's most popular rock bands, but the Black Keys are survivors. The majority of the duo's colleagues from the early 2000s have since called it quits, but the workmanlike Akron boys Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney kept their heads down, dutifully churning out gutshot blues-pop mimicry that carried just enough of a punch to establish them as, at the least, a reliable stadium-act opening band. Then: worldwide financial turmoil struck, the buying public went from purchasing few records to no records at all, dance music infiltrated pop's consciousness, and guitars were, prophetically, exchanged for turntables (or, in keeping with recent trends, MPCs).
opinion byBENJI TAYLOR < @benjitaylormade > If there’s one thing guaranteed to cause you to take stock and reassess where you are in life it’s a case of good old-fashioned heartbreak. For artists, that knife through the heart can often unleash a hidden well of unbridled creativity. Talking about your problems, we’re told, is one of the best forms of healing.
This month, in one of several low-risk stunts to promote their new album, “Turn Blue,” the Black Keys circulated a recording of a prank call to the offices of their label, Nonesuch. In it Patrick Carney, the band’s drummer, poses as a hopeful rube: He’s seeking a deal for his New Age act ….
Though the Black Keys’ previous work with Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) on two full albums, 2008’s Attack and Release and 2011’s El Camino, delved into the psychedelic and gospel tones that the producer veers toward for rock records, a predominant adherence to a gritty, galloping pace revealed Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney still tightly clutching the reins. For Turn Blue, Burton leads the charge with his jumpy bass, dreamy synths and infectiously catchy choral hooks. In this case, however, his recognizable air of grooviness feels far less at odds with the duo’s intentions.
The blues is like the mind – it has limitations, but within them, it's limitless. And while The Black Keys aren't a blues act, they are arguably the only American band that's finding major critical and commercial success with something approximating a blues-influenced classic rock formula. Like the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, this Akron, Ohio, duo mines every nuance of the pentatonic scale, understanding that when applied correctly, it's a machine for sexy hits.
The Black Keys Turn Blue (Nonesuch Records) For all their success, the Black Keys are survivors. As modern pop skews toward flat-out EDM euphoria, the Akron duo burrows even deeper into smoky, elastic rock & roll. Catch the gently grazed guitar on the title track, replete with the dark-sunglasses blues that's made them famous. First single "Fever" serves as sequel to their most famous songs, a buttery, late-night glide taking the piss out of any and all expired White Stripes comparisons.
Throughout the band’s career, The Black Keys have been peddling a view of women that, while certainly in line with the blues tradition the band trades in, is not only wholly uninteresting, but is also glaringly reductive. Not much has changed with Turn Blue, the Black Keys’ eighth album of original material, where, among the muscular riffs, women are mere caricatures, often painted as temptresses in desperate need of the guidance and fulfillment that can be provided by a man. On “Gotta Get Away,” Dan Auerbach laments, “All the good women are gone,” and elsewhere on “It’s Up To You Now,” he can’t help but feel exploited by a woman who’s left him.
The Black Keys playfully announced their new album on boxer Mike Tyson’s Twitter account and teased it with a video of a hypnotist played by an actor. But maybe that was all just to distract from the music, which is sub-par Black Keys. The band went into the studio with no songs and what they hashed out is often lightweight. They again enlisted Danger Mouse, who co-writes all 11 tracks but leavens most of them with excessive keyboards that cut against Dan Auerbach’s guitar.
Words of self-knowledge from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys: "We made our mark when we were in our prime." That lyric, delivered in a parched drawl on the blues-rock duo's new album, almost certainly refers to Auerbach's recent divorce, which seems to haunt "Turn Blue" like a ghost. But the singer-guitarist might as well be describing the trajectory of the group he shares with drummer Patrick Carney. This is a modal window.