The Black Keys - Turn Blue

Their eighth studio album is a subdued effort that still manages to be filled to the brim with infectious rock cuts.

Additional Info

8.4

ALBUM: Turn Blue

ARTIST: The Black Keys

2014

Rock

Turn Blue, the eighth studio album crafted by The Black Keys, is, unfortunately only my first venture into their discography. Not due to any particular kind of ignorance or unwillingness to give the band a chance - I had heard great things about their prior record (El Camino) - but because of some innate sense of already knowing I was going to enjoy the work of this duo. Call it inane (or insane), but it's held me at bay for this long. Thank god, however, for this site and the opportunity to listen to everything from Mac Miller's psychedelic stoner trip, Faces, to this, charming, romanticized ode to psychedelic rock.

By romanticized, I'm referring to the subtle longing found in Auerbach's, often airy, incessantly inviting, vocals - a longing for change but hesitant in embracing the advice that he himself pens throughout the album. The album opens in reverse, the sprawling ballad "Weight Of Love," simultaneously establishing the premise of being lost in complacency and quickly moving past the more drawn-out rumination. This leaves room for the rest of tracks to maintain a certain pep, a bounce in their rhythmic groove, despite Auerbach's consistent musings. "In Time" is allowed the freedom to be extremely catchy as well as assured in its delivery and the awesome swing of its melody. On the titular track, even as he "remembers the time love would really glow," the melodic sway of the instrumentation picks up the tempo in precise measures. The album is, if anything, deliberate in its infectious stride, with each inflection and warble in the vocals matched with a swooping lull or rising climax.

Even though the haunting "Bullet In the Brain" would be fitting as the makeshift centerpiece of the album, the fact there isn't a clear focus throughout the record is indicative of a more deeply imbedded problem. One of the album's major flaws stems from the writing. Even when many of the tracks work very well on their own, and when placed together, Turn Blue meshes well sonically, the content and the writing often feels inconsequential. Maybe the closer, the clean-cut country/rock number "Gotta Get Away," was meant to be triumphant, especially after the album's never-ending one-off lines of foreboding and forewarning, but you're simply left wondering what was actually accomplished - what lesson was taken away, or what all the half-cocked doom & gloom built up to.

But this album finds a way to takes its rumination and make it catchy, to create an album of entertaining tracks even if the product isn't as cohesive as a whole. A sense of whimsy that's thoroughly embraced is found in almost every track, in some form or another - never allowing a track to get lost in its own daydreaming. When it gets close, like on "Waiting on Words," there are tracks like the sing-song "10 Lovers" (and playful "It's Up To You Now") to surround it on either side. Although it's predicated on suffocating complacency, and an urge to starting freeing yourself, the album is already almost uniformly uninhibited. It never appears to be holding its breath - contrastingly, it's actually pretty self-assured in its mild yet psychedelic groove - but, unfortunately, you're left wondering what could've happened if The Black Keys actually dared to take in one of those big gulps of rigid, fresh, air, and hold it in until they turned blue.

“Will it ever end?”

1. Weight of Love
Despite the near seven minute run time, or the heavy implications of its title, "Weight of Love" is delicate in its construction of the initial melody. The strings tighten and the keys twinkle in, before a premature guitar solo of sorts, and then its back to the basics as Auerbach weaves the cynical harmony. The weight of love stems from finding/needing companionship and Auerbcah warns you of its incessant pull. The track climaxes in a grand de-shackling of the restraints placed by these deeply imbedded burdens, and the album is posed to tackle its forthcoming subject matter with an assured perspective.8.5
2. In Time
With the scene set properly by the intro, the second track bypasses the niceties and unabashedly embraces a freeing whimsy. The underlying melody that drives the song is somber yet hopeful in bridging the advise Auerbach dishes out, but is unafraid of grounding matters in a lighthearted fashion.8.5
3. Turn Blue
The complacency that haunts Auerbach finds itself manifested on this titular track, draping a shroud around his mind "in the dead of the night" (but he still carries the weight like he's "always done before"). The subtle quiver in his voice as he whispers "like pops told me too," is enough alone to distinguish this song. Although, sonically, it remains somewhat stagnant, the track is a free-flowing stream of inner wars that are fought and won consistently in order to even fall asleep at night, let alone get out of bed in the morning.8.5
4. Fever
As many of these songs remain headed by hooks more so than the actual verses, one thing remains clear: the band's sense of catchy and melodic tunes definitely hasn't wavered. While "Fever" features an interesting interlude towards the last third, an energetic and enjoyable build up that carries the track to it's conclusion, a majority of the song is far too fleeting to make a great impact. It serves best to reaffirm this album's hook-centric focus.8.0
5. Year In Review
The melody of The Black Keys works best in this sort of setting, where Auerbach places equal amounts of effort into the aesthetic (the soaring, atmospheric harmonies fill up the negative space with ease) as well as his own passages ("but you doin' it again" resonating with a cool air of insight). "Look how it hurts their pride," he quivers, before regaining his composure - "will it ever end?" The balance between being assured in his insights but still questioning each and every thought is handled with smooth elegance.9.0
6. Bullet In the Brain
While he appears dissatisfied with his current placement in the world as a whole, the underlying problem slowly begins to surface - "I prefer it to remain the same." He reminisces on times where the blame was transferred, perhaps unfairly, when he “was in the wrong" ("but weren't you in it more?"), but they are short tangents before the swaying "bullet in the brain" hook resonates with the listener. He paints a gray area but places himself in the side of the disenfranchised. And we do feel a bit sorry for him, even though he seems okay with the struggle.8.5
7. It's Up to You Now
The unexpected, grungy drop half-way through the track, accompanied by the classic riffing pulls the song out of being another hook-driven venture. The ending, with the sped up "yeah" and the revisit of the hook is also brilliant. The song does seem a bit structureless due its insistence on focusing on the melody. However, the upbeat tempo and general vibe of the song acts as a substitute for any lack of content.8.0
8. Waiting On Words
The airy whispers of Auerbach accompanied by the vibrant and soulful strumming and rhythmic drumming make for a concise and fleeting, yet powerful and effective track. Essentially a "goodbye" of sorts, a departure after failed attempts at "changing your mind," Auerbach comes to the understanding that his love is indeed "real," and the only thing worth waiting on. This song is a perfect example of how this band can infuse their melody with suggestive context and still create a memorable and enjoyable record. 9.0
9. 10 Lovers
The rhythmic bass sets the tone with its familiar, reverberating, plucks, as Auerbach ups the melodrama ("it's like 10 different lovers died/except you're still just a mile away"). The track is upfront in its conceit as he weaves a beautifully airy falsetto in between the regular cadence. Auerbach foreshadows that "we might break instead of bend," from the repeated strains, but as he mentions the "pouring rain" that "washed away most everything," the instrumentation builds in a lush and vibrant manner. The track straddles the line between being a filler and something more deliberate, but the nuanced approach to the craft is continuously rewarding.8.5
10. In Our Prime
"We made our mark when we were in our prime," he laments, his voice warbling and echoing to perfection. But the track distinguishes it self with the abrupt, yet fluid, shift in tone and pace before even the 2 minute mark. In fact, the songs instrumentation bounces from idea to idea with a whimsical carelessness, climaxing with a pure rock 'n roll bridge for the last act. Auerbach's, almost inconsequential presence as a writer, may be the only reason tracks such as this one don't resonate more.8.0
11. Gotta Get Away
Building on the switch-up presented by having the sprawling "Weight of Love" as the opener, The Black Keys close with a straightforward rock tune - that comes with a twinge of country. "It's no fun, with a one track mind," Auerbach realizes, as he goes from "San Berdoo to Kalamazoo just to get away from you." The cycle of complacency and rumination is finally broken - there's finally an action taken. There's finally proof to the statement: "But still I'm tryin'."7.5
Narsimha Chintaluri is a creative writer currently satiating his need to write by venting about music, tv and film on any given platform.



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