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The Black Keys “Turn Blue” Review June 23, 2014

By Jon Warhol

Turn-Blue-Black-KeysTurn Blue is the eighth full-length album by the two piece blues-rock band from Akron, Ohio, The Black Keys. Can we even really call them a “blues-rock” band anymore? The band’s earlier albums were recorded in basements and abandoned rubber factories, and consisted of mostly one vocal, one drum and one guitar track of in-your-face, kick ass dirty blues riffs. Turn Blue sees the duo working in a studio with Danger Mouse as producer to make more groove oriented alt-rock tracks, showcasing lush melodies and a high production value. Doesn’t even sound like the same band, right?

That is a silly and rhetorical question; of course they are the same band, but their music has significantly evolved since their 2002 debut, The Big Come Up.  A better question to ask is whether or not this evolutionary leap in the band’s sound is in the right direction for both new and old fans. Although this is not the first time the band has worked with Danger Mouse, Turn Blue represents the biggest leap in the group’s sound.

In terms of track length and musical ambition, the seven minute opener “Weight of Love” is arguably the most epic song The Black Keys have ever recorded. Old and new fans will no doubt love the psychedelic atmosphere and three screaming guitar solos. “Awesome!” I thought after hearing track one, “I hope the rest of Turn Blue is this cool”. “Weight of Love” is an example of elaborate studio production done right, but the following track “In Time” feels over-produced, middle-of-the-road and boring in comparison.

Over-produced is a good way to describe most of Turn Blue. While I can appreciate The Black Key’s efforts to try new things search a more “evolved” sound, a lot of the album’s production becomes over-production when the extra bells, whistles, synthesizers and string sections don’t add anything to the songs that otherwise range from average to ok. The title track “Turn Blue” has an awesome slow, dark groove but is the strange electronic swooshing synth sound throughout really necessary? Probably not.

Besides the production, Turn Blue has an overall slow-to-moderate tempo that lacks the Oompfh! Pow! and the ballsy guitar and drum sound older fans are used to. Those who enjoyed Attack & Release and El Camino will no doubt fancy Turn Blue, which feels more like a sequel to the two mentioned Key’s albums that also have Danger Mouse’s production stink all over them.

Final verdict: it’s ok. If you’re a Black Keys fans who liked Thickfreakness, Rubber Factory and Magic Potion, you probably won’t be too into Turn Blue. In all fairness, a band’s sound must evolve over time; it would be very boring if a group created the same records over and over. I respect and understand why The Black Keys are changing and expanding their sound, but one must not go too far and alienate the fans who originally fell in love with them.