Gather ’round, kids. It’s time for the delightfully democratic Album Review Forum.
Today, three of our writers analyze The Black Keys’ latest LP, while dealing with the implications of hipster vs. mainstream snobbery, and the pressure to accept a band despite the alarming reality that everyone in the world has heard of them. Oh, the humanity! Now, go ahead. Experience the drama, intrigue, and (lack of) sensuality of our 3-part album review.
The Black Keys – Turn Blue
Reviewer #1: Nicolas White
It’s a curious case study in music today–the indie darling turned massive star. As it happens, The Black Keys tip-toe the same ground as Arcade Fire and The White Stripes before them. They’ve exceeded the well-kept secret status held by bloggers and record store geeks; they’re no longer musical underdogs.
The Black Keys are now an arena-filling household name, without the raw romanticism of two musicians recording blues rock in a dusty basement somewhere in Ohio. And for some reason, that makes them less shiny and alluring to the fans that were listening to Rubber Factory years ago. Stranger yet, so many hold that against them now.
It appears the overarching crux of The Black Keys as a band in 2014 is that everything feels so much bigger – the production is tighter, the choruses more radio-ready – because when it comes down to it, more people are listening. More money and resources are being poured into this group, and get this… that’s perfectly OK.
I have no less respect for this band because, in my opinion, they kept making great music despite the media blitz and routine ad pairing. El Camino had some very good grooves and Brothers is one of the most replayable records in recent memory. So please, before listening to Turn Blue, don’t give in to this indie vs. mainstream bullshit.
Unfortunately, while Turn Blue has some great moments that will undoubtedly soundtrack my summer, some things are working against it.
Brian Burton a.k.a. Danger Mouse returns for production duties in a smart move on paper. The famed producer’s touch is evident from the onset with a floating instrumental on album opener “Weight of Love.”
As Burton leads the band into another career transition, Turn Blue makes it known that it’s a departure from blues rock, as the record prefers the route of psychedelic-tinged soul. Aside from the smooth rock of “Bullet in the Brain,” with its sliding and tone-bending riffs, and the single, “Fever,” the new album doesn’t have many of the head-banging moments that highlight The Black Keys’ past work.
Instead, Turn Blue focuses on Dan Auerbach’s silky falsetto and mid-tempo cuts. Songs like “In Time,” would feel right at home on El Camino, as would the title track, which continues with the same choral harmonies, albeit while adding some really impressive psychedelic production and a tight bass line.
While the record is rather enjoyable at times, I certainly wouldn’t mind a healthy dose of the electric energy that permeated through The Black Keys of yesteryear, at least for a song or two.
That payoff never comes though, and while I understand Turn Blue draws from new influences and is meant to be a low-key burner, Burton doesn’t bring out the same grit that he awakened previously in the form of Attack & Releases’ “I Got Mine” or “Lies.” This energy is what separated the band from much of the softer “indie” rock establishment, but on Turn Blue, it’s sadly absent.
To add to that yearning, the album closer, “Gotta Get Away,” sounds like a Lynard Skynard song, and really not in a good way—it gave me uncontrollable visions of hearing it play in an ESPN baseball montage (which it probably will). This void notwithstanding, Turn Blue is definitely worth a spin.
Verdict: Turn Blue goes after soul (with quite pleasant results at times), but in turn, it sacrifices some heart.
“Live on Letterman”
Reviewer #2: Jason Schellhardt
It is hard for me to nail down how I really feel about this album. But, one thing that is very clear is how different this album is from the rest of the Black Keys’ catalog. Turn Blue marks a departure from the bands brand of gritty blues rock into a more psychedelic soul kind of vibe. This works to great effect in some parts of the album, and not so much in others.
Super-producer Danger Mouse is back at the helm on this album–as he has been on many of the band’s albums. Danger Mouse has become an easy scapegoat for Black Keys detractors. Though the album feels bloated and overproduced at times, songs like the album opener, “Weight Of Love,” bare that spaghetti western vibe that Danger Mouse has nearly perfected.
There are definitely some really heavy grooves on this album, but the absence of the band’s trademark swampy guitar riffs is hard to get past. With that said, it is actually pretty refreshing to hear the Black Keys take this big of a risk at this point in the band’s career.
Verdict: Not a bad album by any means, just very different than what I would have expected from The Black Keys.
Reviewer: #3: Adam Lalama
Before I mention anything about the latest from The Black Keys, I must inform all readers of my everlasting reluctance to accept the band into my cherished list of favorites. Since my high-school days, I’ve struggled to mask my displeasure every time some ignorantly drunk teenager blathers on about how they’ve been listening to the Akron, Ohio rock duo since the beginning, or how their style of music is so “true” (don’t worry I have no idea what that is supposed to mean either).
Call it hipster snobbery if you want, but I still cringe every time I see someone post a Black Keys song as their Facebook status in an attempt to showcase their “hip” cultural status and “superior” taste in music.
With that in mind, I was somewhat annoyed at the idea of another Black Keys album fueling the aforementioned ignoramus’. However, despite my judgemental ways and never-ending bitterness, I really do enjoy Turn Blue. This time around, the band dives into a psychedelic pool of danceable hooks and melodies that differ drastically from their past work.
The albums funky, synthetic sound shines through on tracks like “Lovers,” while others like “Weight of Love” see the band retreating to the core of the rhythm and blues genre. In fact, the entire album is filled with quality tracks that all seem to offer something different; so much so that I can’t even decide which one is my favorite.
Regardless, there is one characteristic of the album that is undeniable, and that is the applause-worthy chemistry of Auerbach and Carney; a characteristic that might just be enough to lift Turn Blue from a good album to a great album.
There; I hope you’re happy; I’ve officially praised the Black Keys for something despite my unfair opinion of their fans. Now excuse me while I lock myself in my room and dance aimlessly to “Fever” (don’t tell anyone).
Verdict: Reluctantly pleased.
For the first time in Album Review Forum history, all three writers actually gave an album a thumb’s up, albeit reluctantly. Radical! As it turns out, however hard you try to resist enjoying The Black Keys, your body won’t let you. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere. Educational! Rukkus is for the children. Until next time…
Article by Nicolas White, Jason Schellhardt and Adam Lalama