The Black Keys settle in for the slow burn on 'Turn Blue'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The last few Black Keys records have started like a party. There might be a quick interlude to set the mood or dim the lights, but beyond that, the strobes would flash and floor would bounce, announcing another dozen or so songs that were ready made for a loud night out.
That’s not the case with Turn Blue. Instead, that quick interlude is answered by the vapor and the air in the room, with a thick beat slowly building into a song that is in no hurry to be anywhere soon. That first track, “Weight of the World,” is the type of song the Black Keys have toyed with in the past, but here it serves as the mission statement to Turn Blue.
This is the Black Keys' catalog entry, a slow burning album full of rhythm, blues and grooves that isn't designed to deliver that immediate blow that so much of their past work has. If there isn't a pop-ready anthem, what is here is a collection of songs that burrow slowly and deeply into the psyche. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney entered producer Danger Mouse's atmospheric world with keyboardist Brian Burton, and left with a record steeped further in groove and soul than anything else they’ve done in their career.
And so, within that territory, there’s the desire to explore textures more than the desire to rip off a classic rock riff. Deep on the second side, “In Our Prime” sounds like the kind of slow rhythm exploration they’ve been aiming for in their mellower moments since 2008’s Attack & Release, their first collaboration with Danger Mouse and their first album in a studio. Since then, they’ve grown beyond the roof-destroying guitar duo into a more rounded ensemble, and with that has come the requisite sonic expansion.
That’s not to say that there aren’t ear worms on this album. The lead-off single “Fever” burrows its way into the listener’s psyche practically within the first 15 seconds, with the thumping bass locking into to Carney’s minimal thwack on the drums before being covered by a retro organ. From there the song builds into as catchy a chorus as the band has written in the past six years and visions of the arena bouncing up and down in unison materialize well before the breakdown.
It’s those slight shifts that help push the album into memory, and whenever they opt for soul over bigger guitar sounds, it works in their favor. The one misstep might be the album’s closer, “Gotta Get Away,” which sounds like a Tom Petty-style tune cloaked in their retro keys. It’s the kind of song that could’ve found its own dedicated cult had it wound up exclusively on “Fever’s” B-side, but instead it’s too dramatic a shift from the rest of the album just before the needle lifts again.
So, this record might test some patience for listeners looking for that one big riff to propel everything. It's not available this time, at least not in that bite-sized portion. But through even the first few listens, this feels like an album that will grow with the audience, revealing new subtleties and textures through the years.
There will be listeners not interested in that arrangement, of course. They won't have the years or the desire to hang with it. That’s always part of the gamble. For those that do, however, the reward could be limitless. It's not easy for a band as big as The Black Keys to spin out a cult favorite, but they may have laid that groundwork here. It's a smaller party, but it could last a lot longer.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org