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 its 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 serve as a primer on what makes the band so continually fascinating.
To start with, 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 initiated by 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 utilizes a backup chorus in the same manner that the Keys’ superb El Camino album did a few years ago. It’s also the kind of anthem a band works up to, the sort of piece de resistance usually saved for last. Here, Auerbach and Carney toss it out like a dare, an outrageously confidence indulgence that forces a rethink for fans won over the immediacy and musical economy of El Camino or its equally lean predecessor Brothers.
But then as Turns Blue starts to wind down, the Keys kick back into action. The album closing Gotta Get Away is a royal kiss-off song 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 served as 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, either. 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 keeps 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 an absolutely molten guitar solo by Auerbach.
Turn Blue also reteams the Keys with producer Danger Mouse, whose presence in the songwriting and keyboard departments 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.