If Danger Mouse didn’t spoil the Black Keys’ individuality, if the profit lures of pop didn’t corrupt the Black Keys’ unique genre, if fanbase impatience didn’t force the Black Keys into a rushed production, time alone was expected to mellow the band’s allure.
Yet new album Turn Blue proves, if nothing else, that the Blacks Keys’ iconism perseveres.
The same songwriting mastery and instrumental genius which made previous albums Brothers and El Camino into popular hits again rise to the forefront in Turn Blue. But the new 11-item album blends such songwriting and instrumentation in a refreshingly reinvigorating concoction.
The Black Keys slow down their pace after the 80s-rock intensity of El Camino, meandering through songs like “Waiting on Words” and “Bullet in the Brain” in tantalizing relaxedness. If the band built their previous album based on the second half of 2011 hit “Little Black Submarines”, they composed Turn Blue on the standard set by the song’s first half — with a dose of infused psychedelia.
The guitar-centric emphasis of opening tracks “In Time” and seven-minute “Weight of Love” quickly establish that this album won’t be a shallow Coldplay-esque cave in to mainstream. Even closer “Gotta Get Away”, a not-so-subtle splurge into the world of catchy hooks, maintains a Black Keys feel outside of its cliched chorus.
Drummer Patrick Carney gets his opportunity to grab the spotlight in “10 Lovers”, a track largely forgettable outside of its beat and Carney’s opening drum solo. “Year in Review” gives the Black Keys a chance to showcase their newfound affection for contrast between pulsating bass and chirpy background singing.
Singer Dan Auerbach truly shines in overlooked gem “In Our Prime”, where sentimental, somber lyrics and Auerbach’s teasingly restrained, optimism-tinged vocals juxtapose brilliantly. The album’s second-to-last track stands out as one of the collection’s most original and memorable.
Lead singles “Turn Blue” and “Fever” reek most of alien influence; both have traceable similarities to Broken Bells’ rhythmic January album After the Disco (also Danger Mouse-produced) and The Bravery’s yell-over-the-guitar style of 2007 album The Sun and the Moon. But it’s not necessarily a negative influence. Listeners may be surprisingly pleased to hear the Black Keys incorporating other bands’ successful spins into their music.
Throwback track “It’s Up to You Now”, a blatant attempt to appease fans still lusting for a Thickfreakness repeat, exists awkwardly as perhaps the only misstep in an otherwise flawless 46-minute vacation to rock-alternative utopia.