Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Playing On Repeat: The Black Keys Get Deep on Turn Blue

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 “Every now and then I see your face from way back when and I explode,

Friends no longer egg me on, they bullshit serenade me like it’s gold, how then we’re told.

I’m praying for some laughter, maybe joy forever after ’til I die,

I’m hungry for a change, I got my fill of other’s pain, I realized,

Opened my eyes.”

-The Black Keys, In Our Prime

I titled this series “Playing On Repeat” because the music I profile here is literally playing over and over- on my phone, in my car, while I’m writing, while I’m cooking. That’s what I do when I get really excited about new music. It is the criteria for me writing about music under this banner. And that’s what I’ve been doing with the new album released by The Black Keys on Tuesday.

Dan and Pat have an impressive catalogue of music. They’ve put out great songs. Eight solid albums, each one stacked. Gritty blues songs with soulful growling vocals, hard hitting drums, and the guitar. Seriously, the guitar. Dan Auerbach is one of the best guitar players in music today. In my opinion, among the best in rock period. My favorite stuff by the band has always been their earlier stuff. The music made by just two guys. But Turn Blue may be their best album yet. And thank god, because El Camino didn’t exactly light my fire.

Turn Blue goes deeper. It is raw and charged with angst. It’s still the blues, just a slicker version of the blues. I’m a huge fan of Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) who co-produced and co-wrote this album, in addition to Attack and Release and El Camino and the single Tighten Up. And Burton’s knack, talent, genius for melding genres and styles is evident on this album. You can’t put it in one category, you can’t pinpoint one influence or sound. It’s a beautiful prism of sound.

The album starts off with Weight of Love. This song thrusts you almost immediately into a guitar solo. Seven minutes that’s more of a journey than a song. A haunting intro gives away to sweltering guitar. Then brief, poignant lyrics are  met with a torrid guitar solo. Two minutes of brilliance. The longest solo perhaps on a Keys album. This is what fans have been yearning for, needing to hear from Dan Auerbach. And he gives it to us on the opener.

The single Turn Blue, immediately brings to mind a ’70s California sunset. Just a touch of a Hotel California vibe. Dan’s vocals are some of the most versatile. At once smokey and bluesy (rappers who collaborated on BlakRoc were shocked to find out he was white) and the next an effortless falsetto. On this song it’s that falsetto that takes the reigns. The music is smooth and serves as a backdrop for the pain that emanates from the lyrics, from the vocals.

Fever is a jaunty radio friendly tryst. It’s fun. It’s sound belies the pain in the lyrics. I love the disparity. “Now if the cold pale light in your eyes reaches those horizon lines, You know not to leave her.”

It’s Up To You starts with a raucous drum, a big band sound. The song turns aggressive when the lyrics come in. The second half of the song is an insolent, dirty guitar. One of the heaviest I’ve heard on a Keys album. And it will be jaw-dropping live. My only complaint is the solo isn’t long enough. It gives you a taste but leaves you wanting more.

Strangely, my favorite song is the one that takes the focus off the guitar. Waiting On Words is about the chorus.  The layered vocals fluctuate between soft and tender to insistet and assertive . Punctuated with an off-key surf style guitar. The lilt in the chorus is stirring. It swells with emotion, the infusion of pain so vulnerable and accessible. “Goodbye, I heard you were leaving, Won’t try changing your mind, Goodbye, don’t know where you’re going. The only thing I really know, My love for you was real.”

In Our Prime is the soul. It is the gut wrenching heart-bleed of the album. The retro piano intro conjures images of a flickering old reel to reel home movie. The tape flutters off the reel as the song indicates a less than happy ending. “Pour me down the drain I disappear, like every honest thing I used to hear.” There’s no pretense, the lyrics go right to the source of the injury. The song exorcises it’s demons of being wronged before an organ fueled ramp-up. The song gives way to a guitar solo that echoes as if hearing it live. The sordid details play out via guitar strings as it eventually fades away in despair and exhaustion. It’s tragic and bewitching, the sum of it all. This is the guts on the paper, the truth and the purging. It’s real and you feel it.




(photo: Danny Clinch)

10 Responses

  1. I do like the new album. And yes. MUCH more than El Camino (even though “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Little Black Submarine” are killer tracks).

    I have listened three times to the new one. It’s mostly been background while writing so I haven’t had that ah-ha moment where I decide I love a particular song.

    However, because the only Black Keys music I currently have on my phone is this album, Brothers (which I also like less than previous efforts), and Chulahoma… and I have my phone set to “Repeat Artist.”

    So, after Turn Blue ends, Chulahoma cycles on… reminding me that it’s still–despite being a Junior Kimbrough tribute–my favorite Black Keys album… and it’s not close.

    And then you know what I do? I listen to Chulahoma again.

    Six magical songs. Six, and no more.

    But, yeah. Sorry about the tangent. Turn Blue makes me way happier than Brothers and El Camino did. Appreciate your care while writing about it.

    And now we play it again…

    1. Gold on the Ceiling and Little Black Submarines were the saving grace of El Camino, I completely agree. (Little Black Submarines is one of my favorites by them, should have been longer, a “Stairway To Heaven” type of epic song) I really was hoping this album was going to be like their earlier stuff. I really wanted them to return to just the two of them. But I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The more I’ve listened to it the more I’ve grown to love it. I do love a good heart ache song, along with angry songs, and this has both… Don’t know what that says about me that those are the songs I’m drawn to???

      Anyways, I just bought tix yesterday to see them. It’s in an arena but I’ll take what I can get. I get the feeling there may not be many tours after this one. Being a true groupie :), I have listened to/read enough of their interviews to see that Dan wants to spend more time producing….

      I hope you find a song on this album that you love… give it a few tries and listen to some of the lyrics… and the guitar solos of course! Have a great weekend Matt! (And I know Chulahoma will always be your favorite. I totally understand, it’s crazy good)

    1. Thank you Linda! If it makes you want to listen more, then that makes me very happy! You’re totally right, Weight of love is reminiscent of Pink Floyd! I totally didn’t pick up on that until you said it! So cool…

    2. I got in my car earlier and listened to Weight of Love again, now that’s all I hear is PInk Floyd! I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on it before! One of the songs reminds my husband of Lenny Kravitz, I can’t remember which one…

  2. I haven’t listened to a whole lot of their stuff, but some of the songs sounds a lot alike.

    I heard another band last week – drummer and bass player. Also very loud. I don’t remember their names, but I’m pretty sure they’re Jack White’s fault. 😉

  3. You’re killing me! Thanks for the unexpected laugh in carpool line!!! As for the Keys, if you don’t like their new stuff have you listened to their older stuff? It’s completely different from what they’re doing now… I know I’m putting the hard sell on you. I won’t try with Jack White but I figure I have a chance with The Black Keys 🙂

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