From the garage to No. 1
The Black Keys is one of the most popular rock ‘n’ roll bands in the U.S., known for its loud, raw, blues-influenced sound. The duo has certainly earned its success, grinding out self-produced releases and touring relentlessly in a van until landing a deal with Nonesuch Records in 2006.
The Black Keys’ releases under the major record label have each done better than the last, and the latest, “Turn Blue” is no exception, earning the band its first No. 1 record in the U.S. and Australia.
The story of Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) isn’t a particularly new one: a young, raw “indie” band works really hard to get signed and then expands its sound when it does. With a larger budget comes greater access to better equipment and more time in a professional studio. And while “Turn Blue” is the band’s fourth album on a major label, it’s the first that seems significantly removed from its garage rock roots.
The sound of this record is reflected in the psychedelic red and blue swirls on its album cover. Less blues and more soul, it sounds like a record from the late ’60s or the early ’70s re-mastered for 2014. This more-produced, less-DIY sound could also be attributed to the influence of Black Keys producer and co-writer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton. Many of the songs are bass-driven and synth-heavy, not what you’d expect to hear from a guitar and drum duo. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but fans of 2011’s “El Camino” or older albums might have to do a little adjusting.
The single “Fever” is demonstrative of the aesthetic throughout the record. Opening with a heavy bass and drum groove, very light guitar enters to support a dominant synth keyboard melody. Auerbach’s vocal hasn’t changed a bit, his natural blues-y grit accentuated by a subtle delay effect. The guitar is a little more present in the bridge, but still shares the stage with the synth as they both build towards the catchy, climatic melody that closes the track.
“Fever” is a strong single, but I can’t help but feel that the band is more successful when it sticks to a sound closer to home, as with “In Time.” Featuring a blues-y melody played on slide guitar, it sounds more like The Black Keys doing a soul record than some of the other cuts on the album.
Many of the the songs on the record start to blend together due to the reliance on the bass guitar and the general “blue” feeling throughout. Then we finally get to the closing track “Gotta Get Away,” which sounds like a breath of fresh air after the preceding 10 tracks.
It seems the band wanted to cleanse the palate after a series of moody tracks about Auerbach’s divorce. Cleanse it certainly does, but it also reminds the listener of how good the duo is at playing guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll.
“Turn Blue” is successful at what it aims to be, but I can’t help but feeling The Black Keys are straying a little too far from their garage.
3 1/2 stars out of 5.
DOWNLOAD NOW: “In Time.”