The Black Keys work with new colors on ‘Turn Blue’

The Black Keys explore an invigorated and inspired new sound in “Turn Blue.”

Christian Davis, Writer

To be fair, The Black Keys have never been one to surprise us. Over the past seven albums, they have artfully crafted their brand of garage rock with minimal risk or desire to break out of the patterns laid down by earlier bands in the revival, such as The White Stripes or The Strokes.

However, they work well in these patterns and their last two records are a testament to how arena-ready their sound has become through the previous decade of refinement. Their most recent album “Turn Blue” breaks these patterns left and right, and finds the Keys exploring a completely invigorated and inspired sound, while retaining the garage rock staples that brought them success on the earlier records.

The band begins breaking rules straight off the bat with a nearly seven-minute opener, “Weight of Love,” which sets a precedent for the rest of the record by flirting with psychedelia. Carney frequently shifts away from his standard frenetic garage rock energy for a more subdued, dancey vibe, resulting in the overall expansion of their sound. Following in the footsteps of Arctic Monkeys’ last record, and even Arcade Fire’s 2013 album Reflektor, the Black Keys seem to have found the space where indie rock and R&B influences collide while sounding incredibly confident in the process.

And seriously, where has Dan’s falsetto been for the past seven albums? Lead single and overall standout track “Fever” showcases a more soulful side of the usually bluesy howl that trademarks his work with The Black Keys and their garage rock revival contemporaries. The synth tone on this track recalls the early “Monster Mash” type novelty tracks of the early sixties and fits perfectly with the notoriously retro vibe the Keys are famous for bringing to the table.

While “Turn Blue” is undeniably an expansion of the duo’s range of influences, it is also a departure for them lyrically. The album moves forward with the most introspective and dark musings the Keys have put down to date. Lead singer Dan Auerbach’s recent divorce is illuminated on the emotional climax of the record, “In Our Prime,” where he chronicles his now ex-wife’s attempt to burn down one of their homes with the crushing line “The house it burned, but nothing there was mine.” This stuff is heavy. Even the sentiment for the album’s title comes from a place of angst and mourning, with “Turn Blue.”

There is still a silver lining on “In Our Prime,” however. “I’m hungry for a change/I got my fill of others pain/I realized/opened my eyes.” With Turn Blue, the garage duo’s garage energy has stood the test of time by opening itself up to new sounds and deeply personal lyrical reflection. Dan Auerbach carefully toes the line between a bleeding heart and rock-and-roll poet laureate, while Patrick Carney has relaxed his percussion style to settle into a toe-tapping groove that will surely make for a dance-worthy live experience. The result is arguably the best Black Keys record to date and a testament to the longevity of our little garage rock band from Akron, Ohio.

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