There’s an almost ethereal groove floating through Turn Blue, the latest release from the Black Keys, and it carries a surprising punch. Said groove is immediately apparent on the shimmering lead-off track, “The Weight of Love,” which feels spacey and oddly romantic all at once.
The Akron-based duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney began recording music in basements and some of that defiance shows on Turn Blue, but for the most part this is a sleek album with a certain “soundscape” quality about it that shows up in the breadth of these smart arrangements.
Pulling it back to “The Weight of Love” is a good idea. The piece begins with acoustic guitar and the Danger Mouse fog well in play. But then the riffing kicks in and the van kicks it to the desert, so to speak. Things become spacious and yet dryly desolate, even in light of the slickness of production. The trick is in finding the balance and the Black Keys mostly do.
In the balance is a lot of room for some terrific melody-making.
“In Time” uses what could be considered an overabundance of sounds to forge ahead, but once again it’s the melody that stands out. The chorus is striking and it appears almost by surprise, with Carney’s staggered drumming kicking a path through the verse. There is an argument to be made for Danger Mouse’s “growing” influence on the two Ohio lads, I guess, but the strength of the songs suggests that the arrangement between band and producer is working. As much as something like “Fever” could’ve gotten away from the Black Keys, it still belongs to them.
The same friction cuts into the title track, which swirls with effects but still is grounded in the howling urgency of the blues. The melody ekes through and there are dramatic sweeps of strings to be discovered, but the basis is still a simple, carving riff from Auerbach that couples beautifully with his soulful singing. The recessed, dirty riffs of “It’s Up to You Now” and the killer, springing bass line of “10 Lovers” stand as testament to the heart that still sits inside this band. No matter what arguments are made for how far they’ve come from the basement, the soul and blues are well within the Black Keys.
And that’s what makes Turn Blue another great recording. It pushes outward but it doesn’t forget the core within. It doesn’t eschew modernity in favor of clinging to past glory and it’s not afraid of embracing forward-thinking concepts. It doesn’t lose in the gamble. It turns more blue in the process and that’s really something.