What a difference four years makes. In 2010 The Black Keys opened up their Brothers album with "Everlasting Light," with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney sounding like they were on top of the world with hearts filled with love. Since that time Auerbach went through a bitter divorce, leaving that once-smitten man behind in the Tennessee dust. Now with Carney and producer Danger Mouse back by his side it comes time to let it all out the only way the Black Keys can: with soulful guitar licks and heavy pounding behind the kit. The end result is Turn Blue, a heartbreaker of an album that sounds good, but leads to a strange kind of disappointment.
Taking cues from 70s funk era and old-school blues rock Auerback and Carney (along with Danger Mouse on keyboards/piano) most of Turn Blue saunters throughout its eleven tracks. Opening track "Weight of Love" revisits the emotions felt in "Little Black Submarines," while at the same time giving off a vibe last heard during Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon era. It's an odd track to open an album with, more fitting for an end than a beginning, but the Black Keys aren't known for playing by the rules after all. It sets up the mood right, prepping the listeners as they begin to travel through the sights and sounds of a broken heart. "In Time" travels through a world where the band feels held back. "Living in chains, thoughts rearranged/You got a worried mind all the time/Now tell me I'm right/And I got a thing I really can't say," croons Auerbach, as if his problems of the past force him to bite his tongue and take a road too high to reach.
The problem with Turn Blue peers its head early on, and that issue is that most of the songs feel too similar. It's fine that the Black Keys want to get the hips moving, but it can get tiresome when gyrating them in the same direction for an album's length. "Fever," "Year In Review," and the album's title track sound almost exact to one another, which wouldn't have been noticed except for the fact that they've been placed all in a row. While good songs it's the placement of these tracks that makes them sound too oddly alike. For a band that's known for trying to bring something different each time, this isn't really a good thing.
Turn Blue does pick up with "Bullet in the Brain," the album's best track, brings back the heart and soul of the duo. The lyrics "Looking back on where we used to be/Everything was clear, still I refuse to see" has Auerbach revisit his past relationship with eyes wide open, realizing his mistakes and errors. It's as if the guy who once sang "Let me be your everlasting light" flew too close to the sun and had his wings melted, plummeting down to a grounded reality. Love isn't always perfect, and if not treated as such it can bite you more painfully than you can imagine. "Waiting on Words" says farewell to lost love, not even trying to convince it to return and casting it aside for a new chapter that'll deliver better in the end. "Gotta Get Away" closes off the album with Carney and Auerbach hitting the road trying to rediscover love, only to find out that all the women across the country (and perhaps the world) are the same heartbreaking machines as the ones back home.
Sometimes it's best for a band to let all their emotions come out in their music, and in the case of the Black Keys it works for the most part. The issue here is that at this time we've come to expect more from the duo, and here it seems more like forty-five minutes of beating out the cobwebs and shaking the dust. Turn Blue isn't a bad album per se, but it feels more like a step backwards from progression, coming from a career where Auerbach and Carney have always moved forward. Perhaps the guys could've used another year to unwind before they had hit the studio, but when one needs to get it all out of their system then there's no use trying to hold them back. In short: Turn Blue is a good album, but not Black Keys good.