With the pre-release coverage of Turn Blue, the new album from Ohioan rock duo The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney, faced much more attention than they had experienced with any of their previous releases.
This is largely due to the strength of the leading single ‘Fever’, a catchy and radio-friendly song that has been on repeat for the last month.
Turn Blue opens with the long (for The Black Keys, anyway, whose songs rarely breech the five minute mark) ‘Weight of Love’, wonderfully blues-driven; both lyrically and by the wailing and – at times – duelling guitars. A very strong start, and not what was expected.
The much more upbeat ‘In Time’ follows, and features Auerbach’s always surprisingly high-pitched voice. At this point in time, the best part of 10 minutes had been spent admiring the accompanying hypnotic album artwork. Even in the age of digital music, with little space assigned to artwork, Turn Blue’s cover is certainly a striking piece, although headaches can prove to be the trade off for such a description.
The weakest track of the first three is the title song, having almost passed as background sound before being noticed. Thankfully, the disappointment is short-lived as it gives way to the instantly recognisable riff of ‘Fever’ that “I’m a slave to”. The Black Keys’ appearance on Later… With Jools Holland (BBC) served well to cement the song into collective consciousness.
Next up is ‘Year in Review’, a song that radiates confidence and strength above everything else, presumably as Auerbach comes back from a divorce that would feature as the main event in his year. Some of the strength in this song has almost choral elements, although it is not clear if anything should be read into that.
The tempo is briefly lowered as ‘Bullet in the Brain’ kicks off, but quickly explodes as quite the accompanying illustration to the lyrical content and into the best song of the album so far, purely because of its raw power.
‘It’s Up to You Now’ follows, managing to only be slightly stronger than ‘Turn Blue’ initially, but halfway through seems to grind out of second gear and get going away from what could have been a dull and listless lull in the album. It fades back again into the lazy ‘Waiting On Words’, which never will be considered a crowd pleaser, even in the loosest of senses.
The ninth track on the album – ‘10 Lovers’ – seems to be a slower version of ‘Fever’, and could be considered the epitome of ‘album track’ – not particularly bad, but not necessarily needed. A filler that you could do without, but still sounds decent after the previous two songs.
‘In Our Prime’ – the penultimate track – reminds the listener that The Black Keys are, in fact, a blues rock band, not the pop-rock act that they could have been forgiven for thinking they are. A beautifully wailing solo fills the last portion of the song, perking interest in the album again just in time for ‘Gotta Get Away’, which is more upbeat (but still bluesy) and a strong song to finish with.
All in all, this is a decent pop rock album, but fans of The Black Keys’ earlier work (pre-El Camino) would be sorely disappointed in the musical drifting from the blues and towards more synth-driven riffs.
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