Having found themselves deemed as unexpected overnight successes thanks to their seventh album El Camino, the Black Keys now find themselves in the new position of having to consolidate their status or play fast and loose with stardom. Producer Dangermouse (aka Brian Burton) is back, suggesting a unwillingness to mess with the formula too much. but Turn Blue‘s opening track ‘The Weight Of Love’ hints at the opposite, clocking in at a completely un-commercial seven minutes and begining with the sweet chime of bells. Yes bells…..which are then kicked out of the way by a screaming extended solo which itself fades into a scorched earth background to be replaced by a bassline that could have been lifted straight off Moon Safari. It’s a heady mix and we are not even halfway through the first track. Expansive and cinematic, it’s a track that most bands would select as an album closer as opposed to an opener, a brave choice but one that works and the sound of the Black Keys trying things that, by their own admission, that they wouldn’t normally try.
This standard is maintained by ‘In Time’, a complete change of pace which has lead vocalist Dan Auerbach in full falsetto mode propelled along and almost at times run-over by a pulsating melodic bassline. The chorus is pure Black Keys drawing from the same sonic palette as the well known hits from their previous record, but given a metallic, hip-hop tightness and sheen. The insistent Air style bassline is back for ‘Turn Blue’, with the refrain “I really don’t think you know, there could be hell below”. With the breathy falsetto calling to mind the Bee Gees penned Barbara Streisand hit ‘Guilty’, it’s a song which gets into your brain and refuses to leave – slinky, seductive slightly menacing and effortless. This is followed up by ‘Fever’, with THAT organ sound at the start and the catchy disco-dancey crossover greatness that the Black Keys seem to be able to do so well. ‘Year In Review’ is another of the radio friendly unit-shifters that will be working its way into your cortex this coming summer. Mark my words.
The reins are loosened somewhat over the course of the next few tunes, culminating in ‘Waiting On Words’, the most organic sounding song on the album. Sparse instrumentation and a vocal heavy with reverb emotion and pathos, the lyric “goodbye, I heard you were leaving, won’t try changing your mind” perfectly illustrates the concept of less being more. Auerbach has said that this album contains some of his most confessional lyrics and that is definitely the case here and on also the penultimate song, the heartfelt and angry ‘In Our Prime’ (“every now and then I see your face from way back when and I explode”).
‘Gotta Get Away’ closes the album and frankly speaking it doesn’t work, failing to fit with what has gone before. More at home on a kid-rock album, it’s throwaway and might be used to sell beers in America, but that is the only vaguely positive comment you can make. A lyric lifted from the song illustrates the point perfectly. “I went from San Berdoo to Kalamazoo just to get away from you.” Indeed.
This could be the album where the Black Keys will be remembered for going the full Burton, with him co-producing and co-writing a large section of the tracks. And when it works, it’s sublime – groovy, funky and shiny. But when it doesn’t it comes off as staid, derivative and way way too close to everything else Dangermouse has done in the past. It’s probably no coincidence that the Burton era has coincided with their period of greatest success and renown, but next time around maybe they should look further afield and seek out other creative collaborators.