Since I saw the album sleeve for Turn Blue, the latest album from Ohio-based fuzz-rock duo The Black Keys, I knew that they were heading in a completely different direction. The blue and magenta spiral that adorns the cover seems to hark back to 70s stoner rock. And, true to its promise, Turn Blue offers up a blast from guitar music’s trippy past.
The opener, ‘Weight of Love’, is one of the album’s best, a searing seven-minute fuzz-rock epic combining Dan Auerbach’s Robert Plant-esque falsetto, driving guitar, organ and punchy basslines to produce a sound that we haven’t heard from the duo before. Nevertheless, producer Danger Mouse holds things together, keeping the pair from taking their sound too far into the avant-garde.
When Auerbach said he wanted to create a ‘headphone record’ with Turn Blue, he really meant it. Patrick Carney’s drums take a much more subdued place in the mix, the drums constantly playing catch up with the incredible guitar riffs, which dance from channel to channel and headphone speaker to headphone speaker, bouncing back and forth like a metronome. Still, fans of Carney’s gloriously sloppy drum fills won’t be disappointed. On tracks like ‘It’s Up to You Now’, Carney takes centre stage.
Although the duo pay homage to their heavier roots on tracks like ‘Gotta Get Away’, it’s clear they are enjoying digging into their hip-hop and synth-infused influences. While they may lose a few older fans with this album, accusations of the duo selling out couldn’t be further from the truth. By taking a different path, and experimenting with everything from funk to psychedelia, The Black Keys have produced another great album.
Mo Hafeez is a music writer based in Manchester. Read more of his reviews at Wall of Sound.