Turn Blue/ The Black Keys
Genre: Rock/ alternative
Label: Nonesuch Records
Rating: *** 1/2
CALL them garage rock, blues-rock or alternative rock, it doesn’t matter. The truth is that American duo The Black Keys are on top of the circuit, specially after being twice successful at the Grammy awards. Earlier this year, vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney released their eighth album ‘Turn Blue’, much awaited by fans after a two-plus-year gap.
Yes, the band has been around for over 13 years, first attaining a cult following with the albums ‘Rubber Factory’, ‘Magic Potion’ and ‘Attack & Release’. The 2010 effort ‘Brothers’ helped them get mainstream success, thanks to the tracks ‘Tighten up’ and ‘Howlin’ for you’, and 2011’s ‘El Camino’ boasted of their biggest hit ‘Lonely boy’. Between the last two albums, they grabbed seven Grammys in the rock and alternative categories.
Like ‘Attack & Release’ and ‘El Camino’, ‘Turn Blue’ has been co-produced by the famous Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley fame. Overall, it uses less of a blues-rock element compared to the earlier albums, as some songs here get into ballad mode and more soulful territory, ostensibly because the songwriting was inspired by the rough marriages and break-ups both band members went through. And though the Keys freely experiment with their sound, the songs range from the outstanding to the insipid, making this quite a mixed bag.
The album kicks off with the six-minute, 50-second epic ‘Weight of Love’, which is a brilliant presentation of Pink Floyd-inspired psychedelic rock. A lengthy, guitar-driven intro is followed by the lines “I used to think, darlin’, you never did nothin’, But you were always up to somethin’, Always had a run in, yeah.” Heartfelt female choruses and the wailing riffs in the coda make this number a sonic treat.
‘In time’, with its melodic intro and plenty of choruses, impresses with the lines “You’ve got a worried mind, I’ve got a worried heart, You don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to start.” However, the fizz comes down on the next three numbers.
The title track sounds more like standard 1980s pop, and ‘Fever’ has shades of European synth-pop, and both songs seem aimed more at commercially-inclined tastes. ‘Year in review’ is the most unimpressive tune here, as it just doesn’t hit you.
Luckily, barring the namby-pamby and ordinary ’10 lovers’, the rest of the album contains some amazing stuff, beginning with ‘Bullet in the brain’. A song about a failed relationship, it boasts of moody guitars, a steady beat and words like “Looking back on where we used to be, Everything was clear, still I refuse to see, Hearts began to burst, The diamond turned to dust, You made me talk the pain all out of me.”
‘It’s up to you now’ steps up the tempo, has a neat rhythm guitar back-up and contains a smart electric guitar stretch. ‘Waiting on words’ is one of the more hummable tunes here, with its retro-pop feel and a farewell emotion on the lines, “Oh, goodbye, I heard you were leaving, Won’t try changing your mind, Goodbye, Don’t know where you’re going, The only thing I really know, My love for you is real, I.”
The last two tracks are delightful. ‘In our prime’ starts with soft keyboards, has a charming guitar climax and brims with nostalgia-ridden lyrics like “Like every lover hovers in my mind, We made our mark when we were in our prime. The house had burned, but nothing there was mine, We had it all when we were in our prime.” Finally, ‘Gotta get away’ is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones, with its rock ‘n’ roll flavour and Mick Jagger influence.
The end result is an album that has many highs, but sadly meanders in parts, moreso when the emphasis shifts from trademark garage rock to market-driven pop. The good news is that some of the songs – namely ‘Weight of love’, ‘In time’, ‘Bullet in the brain’ and ‘Waiting on words’ – deserve regular replays. The moment one tires of them, one can always return to the earlier albums ‘Brothers’ and ‘El Camino’.
RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding