Published May 09, 2014On their eighth record in 13 years, the Black Keys sound about as far removed from their early days as drum'n'guitar garage rockers as can be. Over the past three or four records, and under the creative gaze of producer Danger Mouse, they have developed into something rather more complex than their first few releases might've suggested. Now an arena-ready band, the Black Keys have found innovative ways to push their blues-based songs into grander, more expansive territory.
On Turn Blue, they've dared to straddle the divide between the slickness of pop radio and the necessary roughness of garage rock, squaring a circle that has bedevilled so many bands before them. It's a mightily impressive feat, even if the songs underneath all of that innovation aren't always that interesting.
Opening with the alienated opus "The Weight of Love" (featuring instrumental sections straight out of Meddle-era Pink Floyd) and flowing through ten more songs largely on the theme of lost love and betrayal (Auerbach just emerged from a messy divorce), Turn Blue sure isn't a feel-good album. But, as dark as the material might be, the music is never allowed to wallow in dirges or sighs. Hell, even a song like "Bullet In The Brain," forlorn as its title might be, opens up into a raging middle section with an ass-shaking bass line lifted from the Krautrock handbook.
And yet, despite all of the cleverness of the production, the ample quoting from '70s rock bands I admire, and the dynamic core that is the interplay between Auerbach and Carney's expressive instruments, much of this record remains inert. Comfortable, but numbing. It all sounds great, but the songs don't sink in, don't push past the surface. (Nonesuch)