The Black Keys Don’t Disappoint but Don’t Overwhelm Either

Jack White may have criticized The Black Keys for copying The White Stripes style, but if anything, Turn Blue proves that the Black Keys continue to create a sound uniquely its own. “Weight of Love” begins the album, and the first two minutes consist of all instrumentals, as if Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) are demonstrating to their haters (Justin Bieber included) that they own the neo-blues sound. Finally, the lyrics enter the song, but it’s tempting to want Auerbach to stop singing his rather cheesy lyrics (i.e. “Don’t give yourself away to the weight of love”) and focus on his raging guitar solo.

“Fever” is the first single off the record. It’s catchy enough, but definitely not a stand out of the album. Turn Blue lacks the radio singles that Brothers and El Camino had, and songs “In Time” and “Year in Review” are not much more than filler tracks with cliché lyrics. For example, in “Year in Review”, Auerbach whines, “Why you always wanna love the ones who hurt you?” Frankly none of the lyrics in True Blue feel truly profound.

But what True Blue lacks in meaningful lyrics, it makes up for in its experimental sound. The title track “Turn Blue” epitomizes the blues foundation of the band. It’s simple, melodic, and the perfect slow jam song to play in heavy traffic. By the end of the song, the bluesy rhythm drifts into a spacey, far-off sound. “Bullet in the Brain” continues this spacey theme throughout the entire song, and even features a synthesizer. Auerbach’s voice sounds almost ethereal here, and it’s reminiscent of psychedelic-revivalist band Tame Impala. “It’s Up to You Now” also abruptly switches to a more psychedelic sound in the middle of the track.

Songs “Waiting on Words” and “10 Lovers” showcase Auerbach’s amazing vocal range. “Waiting on Words” is a paradoxically sweet breakup song, and “10 Lovers” brings back the synthesizer for a Michael Jackson-esque pop ballad.

“In Our Prime” may be the best track on the record. It has an excellent guitar groove and ironic, wistful tone. “We made our mark when we were in our prime,” wails Auerbach. While he refers to a relationship, professionally he and Carney seem to be prolonging their glory days.

“Gotta Get Away” ends the album on a fun, light-hearted note, although it’s missing the weight and lasting impression a final track should contain. Overall, True Blue as a whole showcases the solid skills and finesse that Auerbach and Carney have developed through each album. True Blue has already hit No. 1 in the U.S., Canada, and Australia charts. However, it’s not a perfect album by any means. On the next album, Auerbach and Carney should challenge themselves in their songwriting skills and continue to expand outside of their blues-rock comfort zone. Not exactly reinvent the wheel, but make the wheel a bit more exciting.

8 Comments

  1. Wakana

    July 3, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Spot on. I liked their previous album more

  2. Katie Antonsson

    July 3, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Awesome review, Lauren! I was so stoked when “Fever” dropped, and I do love it, but I don’t think they’re living up to the greatness of their past work.

  3. Kyle

    July 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    It’s the criticisms that make me want to listen to this album even more! People need to get over themselves. Black Keys are awesome, and so are The White Stripes. Justin Beiber is not. Can’t wait to get my hands on this disc.

  4. Dane Fallon

    July 3, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    “Attack & Release” will always be an album I’ll defend, but they just keep falling short of their previous effort every album.

  5. Jennifer

    July 3, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Yeah- I feel like this new album is too far removed from what I loved about the Black Keys in the first place. That grit. That soul. Totally agree on the lyrics too

  6. Keegan

    July 14, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    I was SO surprised by the production on this album. It’s predominantly a drums, bass, and synth record, with guitar solos and lines thrown in haphazardly. Not what I expect when I think Black Keys, but I think the key lies in the album title – “Turn Blue”. This is, as you put so well in your review, a “neo-blues” album, and a wholly new sound. It’s closer to Brothers than El Camino, or anything else in their discography, and it’s taken me a long time to “get” what they’re going for with it, especially the single “Fever”…but now it’s one of my favorite Keys albums. It’s so chill, super cool, and the minimalist production is experimental but presses all my right buttons. I’m a fan!

  7. Darlene

    July 15, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Definitely love older stuff by The Black Keys.. especially their way older stuff that has never been played on the radio…
    The newer single is cool, but yeah… not what I am used to from them.

    Great review!

  8. Pingback: 2015 Grammy Nominations Forgot These Great Rock Choices - Rock On Philly

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