The Black Keys are back and this time around they’re a little different to what you’ve gotten used to, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. Hot on the heels of 2011s Grammy award winning El Camino comes their latest smash hit Turn Blue. Opening track Weight of Love starts off at a far gentler pace than the Keys’ last few outings but as soon as Patrick Carney’s masterful drum skills kick in over that smooth blues guitar you know that you’re in for something special. After two minutes of pure anticipatory instrumentals, the tension is broken by Dan Auerbach’s unmistakable vocals and you soon realise that the Black Keys we all know and love are very much alive and well.
While it may be yet another gem, unlike 2010s Brothers and 2011s El Camino, Turn Blue looks set to receive relatively little airtime. Aside from the album’s first single Fever, this latest affair is relatively lacking when it comes to potential commercial radio big-hitters. Much like the titular second single Turn Blue, many of the tracks found on this album come together to form a fairly laid back affair. Whilst this record makes for some great casual laid back listening, it’s somewhat lacking in the hard hitting rock anthems which made Brothers and El Camino such great radio fodder. Dan Auerbach himself has stated that the duo decided to turn their focus away from making singles this time around, instead favouring the creation of what he has described as a ‘headphone record’. This new approach certainly shows, this isn’t the kind of album you let flow out of your car stereo with the windows wound down, it’s much more the kind of album you let yourself wind down to after a long day at the office or lecture theatre.
It’s been a long three years since the duo’s last release, a longer wait than usual, which may be partly explained by frontman Dan Auerbach’s very public and very messy divorce. The impact of the split can be felt throughout Turn Blue, which looks to have been a good creative outlet for Auerbach’s emotions. From the painfully obvious Bullet in the Brain right through to the mournful lyricism of In Our Prime, Dan’s true feelings about his estranged ex-wife Stephanie Gonis are laid out for all to see. “The house it burned but nothing there was mine / we had it all when we were in our prime”, laments Auerbach in reference to Gonis’ attempted arson at the family home just last year. It’s not all heartbreak and despair however as the emotional lyrics are contrasted by an upbeat, soulful energy throughout.
This glass half full rollercoaster response of optimism in the face of heartbreak ends wonderfully with Gotta Get Away, a delightfully cheesy and ever so catchy Creedence Clearwater Revival-esque tune that will inevitably have you singing, or at the very least mumbling, along the second time around. A breakaway from the norm for the duo, this record may lack the stadium shaking anthems that made their last two albums so popular, but it is still a fine piece of blues-rock grooviness and a must have for any self-respecting Black Keys fan.
Turn Blue is out now on NoneSuch records