The Black Keys check into the psychedelic shack

‘Turn Blue’ is less blues stomp than psychedelic soul

May 14, 2014

Having arrived late at the Black Keys’ party—El Camino in 2011 was the first album where I really shared the enthusiasm of the Akron-bred duo’s legions of faithful—I was perhaps not as eager for a stylistic departure on disc number eight as some listeners; I’d have been perfectly fine with more Danger Mouse-produced variations on the band’s basic blues-rock arena-crunch. The mellower, more-of-a-piece Turn Blue took several listens to sink in, but once it did—and I accepted the shift from Zeppelinesque “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” to the Temptations’ Psychedelic Shack—the charms of the dreamier, more soulful Keys took hold.

Granted, there are a couple of problems with the group’s embrace of this genre. For one, Dan Auerbach isn’t quite good enough a singer to really pull it off; he often attempts but falls far short of that effortless Robert Plant falsetto (witness “Waiting on Words”). For another, Patrick Carney’s John Bonham bashing seems overly restrained at times (“It’s Up to You Now”), while he lacks the fluid groove of, say, Sly and the Family Stone required of darker, more expansive tunes like the title track. But if Auerbach’s painful divorce isn’t quite the cause for despair as riots in the streets, his need for catharsis is convincing enough, and his guitar work soars, especially during the epic opening suite. “Weight of Love” plays like a Danger Mouse tribute to Meddle-era Pink Floyd (his colorful touches are one of the album’s primary pleasures), and it leaves me wishing that the group started here and pushed its boundaries even further, instead of these nearly seven minutes standing as the album’s high point.

The Black Keys, Turn Blue (Nonesuch)

Rating on the four-star scale: 3 stars.

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