Listening to Turn Blue
— the eighth album from Akron's blues-rockstars The Black Keys, and their fourth collaboration with co producer Danger Mouse — cover to cover is like listening to someone you love talk about the worst break-up they've ever been through; you can feel it, and even though they constantly repeat themselves you still genuinely want to listen, and for a while it's easy, but after a bit longer, you're as emotionally drained as they are and everyone just needs a cigarette, a few drinks and good night's sleep. The metaphor here is pretty choice: The Black Keys studio time for Turn Blue
overlapped with Dan Aurbach's clearly emotionally draining bummer of a divorce. It's pasted over every inch of the record.
Considering the title and the tone, it's an interesting twist that the sound of the record is far less raw blues rock than previous albums like Brothers
and El Camino
. Instead it opens with a beautiful but stripped down psych rock ramble track, "Weight of Love", that sets the tone of the rest of the record with what are probably it's finest lyrics: "I used to think, darling, you never did nothing/But you were always up to something/Always had a run in/Yeah I got to think those days are coming to get you." A graceful string segue into "In Time" and in comes Carney's brand of rock n' soul percussion, Aurbach's trademark falsetto, and just the slightest scent of disco in the background (I'm lookin' at you Danger Mouse), and the record unfolds on much the same trajectory.
The disco beat energy revs up slightly on the third track "Fever", that moment in the conversation (we're back to your broken up friend) when they're just so fucking mad at that asshole, and then goes hot into "Year in Review" through "It's Up to You Now", at which point they're really just heated at the whole unfortunate situation. Then it quickly deconstructs into the mournful sorrow of "Waiting on Words", followed equally as fast by an animating injection of the 'maybe this is still worth salvaging' phase with Danger Mouse's disco thick "10 Lovers". Finally, the moment of acceptance arrives with "In Our Prime": Slowed down, melancholic and reflective, with a beautifully bluesy soul guitar and perhaps the next finest lyrics on the album: "Pour me down the drain, I disappear/Like every honest thing I used to hear...The house it burned but nothing there was mine/We had it all when we were in our prime."
is the most musically mature piece from The Black Keys thus far. While it has the mainstream appeal of the rock n' roll foot stompers we know and love, it also flexes the technical skill and quality taste of both band members. At the end of the day the Aurbach, Carney and Danger Mouse trio can pretty much do no wrong. It really is an album full of gorgeous moments, so don't misunderstand the metaphor here: It isn't a hard listen cover to cover because it's terrible, it's a hard listen cover to cover because it's a lot of the same thing all at once. Like your broken up friend, it starts off articulate and pensive, and then finds itself a little stuck, a little repetitive, a little unable to let go, and really, a little bit talking to itself before it takes that deep breath and exhales some calmed-down clarity.
Then of course it/he/she always gets hit with the endorphins that mournful sorrow brings, and the final note is one of mildly psychotic high energy that seems to come out of nowhere, like the "Gotta Get Away". It's a weird track to put last, it feels the least connected to the rest of the album, and probably the most put on. That, however, seems to be the nature of these things. So, we recommend this album highly...in doses, or at least on shuffle. Unless, of course, you're in the mood to sit down for 45 minutes and hold Dan Aurbach's hand while you tell him his ex-wife is an asshole and he's better off without her, but of course what they had was real.
Get the full album on itunes
In the meantime get a feel for some of that heat, and watch the official video for "Fever" below.