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The Black Keys – Turn Blue

May 19, 2014

the-black-keys-turn-blue

There is nothing better in rock and roll than the break up album: anger, bitterness, regret and melancholy are great inspirations.  The Black Keys’ Turn Blue is a great break up album in the grand tradition as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors and Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.  I am a long time Keys fan and I think this is their best album to date.  It is a progression – the growth of their sound.  As much as I like the Keys there has been a sameness to the sound of their albums.  Turn Blue has their most diverse sound yet.  Producer Danger Mouse is a full partner – his Spaghetti Western shtick plays well with the Black Keys.  Dan Auerbach is no longer content with just cool riffs, he has discovered is inner guitar god and is squeezing out sparks with real guitar solos. Even better Auerbach has unleashed his vocals and it turns out he has an awesome falsetto among other voices he has been hiding in the mud.

The first cut is an epic Neil Young/Pink Floyd sounding mash-up: “Weight of Love.” Clocking in at close to seven minutes this psychedelic song sets the mood for the album: this is not going to be the usual Keys dirty riff rock, but an evolutionary – if not revolutionary – sound.

Next comes “In Time” which has the strong presence of producer Danger Mouse.  Auerbach gives a great break up line:

“You got a worried mind
I got a worried heart”

“Turn Blue” his a mellow tune with a My Morning Jacket feel.

The lead single “Fever” is the most typical Black Keys song on the album.  Although it is nice hit single, it does the album a disservice as a calling card to what grand progression Turn Blue is to the Black Keys resume.  But you can’t beat the cheesy Farfisa organ.

“Year in Review” gives us the great break up lament: “Why you always wanna love the ones that hurt you?”

“Bullet in the Brain” reprises the sound of  “Weight of Love.”

“It’s Up to You now” gives us another great jamming  guitar solo.   I am sure songs like this are what really pisses Jack White off about the Keys, but I am not sure how a music thief like Jack can every cry foul about getting ripped off.

When I first heard “Waiting On Words” I assume it was a guest vocalist.  This is a beyond-belief falsetto from Auerbach. There is nothing false about this falsetto. This is what I love about this album – not a typical Black Keys song at all.  A bonus is the line  “My love for you is real, I….”  Love the dangling “I…”

“10 Lovers”  has that strong Danger Mouse feel.  Vocally Auerbach echoing himself call and response and the lead voice is John Legend suave and soulful.  Honey vocals and vinegar lyrics – A heartbreaking dagger at an ex-lover that that plays dirty by bringing the kid into the battle:

“The little girl can’t comprehend
She had another dream that her mama’s gone
She’s alright, but you’re all wrong”

If Paul McCartney where using the Black Keys for his back up band  it might sound like “In Our Prime”   Key line from the album:  “We made our mark when we were in our prime”

The album ends with another atypical song “Gotta Get Away,” which would not be out of place on a 80s Rockpile album.

After successfully elbowing themselves into legitimate arena rockers, I think this is a pretty daring album.  Not content to rest on their laurels, the Keys take a giant step forward – not by being weird, but by sharpening their pop chops.  I love that Auerbach is spinning out long-winded guitar solos.  I fully endorse Danger Mouse making the Keys a threesome.  This is a great pop-rock album and should make a great summer soundtrack.

A great introduction to this album is the recent All Songs Consider interview/preview of Turn Blue.

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