Yesterday morning I was ushered into The Black Keys’ management’s offices in their adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee to listen to the duo’s new album, ‘Turn Blue’. Following their Grammy-scoring, arena-touring ‘El Camino’, ‘Turn Blue’ has some pretty big boots to fill. You won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a mean match for its predecessor. Released on May 12th, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s eighth album features their now regular collaborator Danger Mouse on production duties alongside the band and was recorded last year at Los Angeles’ historic Sunset Sound, with smaller stints in Benton Harbor, Michigan and Dan’s own Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville. After listening, I spoke to the band about the album, for a piece that you’ll be able to read in a forthcoming issue of NME.
‘Weight Of Love’
The longest song The Black Keys have ever laid down, ‘Weight Of Love’ comes in at almost seven minutes. It’s a bold move, and an even bolder to place it at the very start of an album. Fittingly epic, it kicks off in a ‘Hotel California’ fashion, with twanging guitars that bring to mind 1970s cocaine cowboys letting the California wind blow through their luscious locks. Setting the downright sexy tone for the album, Dan Auerbach calls out “I used to think darling you never did nothing/but you were always up to something”. Featuring solos upon solos, it’s a massive, killer call to arms.
We begin with some choice ‘ooh, oohs’, echoed by a wailing guitar line before The Black Keys bring a mighty portion of funk to the party. Here Dan is in falsetto mode, his own vocals stacked over layered backing singers on the chorus. Late night soul refrains and yet another soaring solo are added into the track, which like ‘Weight Of Love’, is slow and steady, measured and moving. Echoes of what sounds like horns parumph on the fade out. The sexiness factor remains dangerously high.
“In the dead of the night I start to lose control… but I still carry the weight like I’ve always done before” starts Dan on the album’s title track. Boasting a softly soft chorus, that sashays around, before flirting big time with your ears, this is pure bedtime blues. Pulsing with sultriness the pace is still relatively slow, burning away with definite restraint. But that’s all about to change.
The first single. Unless you’ve been hiding away in a soundproofed box over the past few days you’ve probably heard ‘Fever’ by now. Squeals from a vintage Farfisa organ kick the tune into touch, the demented 1960s shakedown spiraling its way into minds and hips with equal force. This is the album’s first full on party number, rattling with riffs, booming with beats and building to a sticky heat despite the chills indicated by the album’s title. ‘Fever’ is hot, but you knew that already.
‘Year In Review’
The bosh-bosh of Patrick Carney’s drums are followed by the high pitched humming of a melody before what sounds like sampled strings, coming on like a chopped and screwed Bond score. “You’ve been down this road before,” sings Dan, the pace still kept up from the previous song, moody backing vocals failing to dampen the tone. “You’ll never find a sinner without no sin,” he continues, before diving into a big, beastly guitar solo, awash with feedback and grasped by relentless, pile-driving drums. The sexiness factor fails to dip below anything less steamy than some serious, X-rated heavy petting in the back seat of a vintage Ford Mustang.
‘Bullet In The Brain’
Opening up in a soft, acoustic fashion, ‘Bullet In The Brain’ soon morphs into an acid country excursion, guitar coos leading into some sublime desert blues, channeling the same kind of Mojave voodoo as Queens Of The Stone Age on a mescaline comedown. Suddenly the tempo switches up. “Looking back on where we used to be... hearts begin to rust,” croons Dan. The chorus is pretty damn psychedelic, but heavy at the same time, like Tame Impala by way of Nine Inch Nails. Some saucy wah-wah and naughty reverb is also chucked into the mix.
‘It’s Up To You Now’
Hopefully we’ll be forgiven for assuming that the entire cast of ‘Stomp’ has piled into the recording studio for the opening bars of ‘It’s Up To You Now’. Patrick’s opening, beefy drum racket is cut through with Dan’s voice riding sidecar along with the full-fat beats. “Smoke cigarettes and act like a clown if you want – it’s up to you now,” he offers. Four songs in one, shifting rhythms and melodies make this one of the most experimental tracks on ‘Turn Blue’.
‘Waiting On Words’
A crystal clear falsetto rings out against the strum of a guitar, which warbles and wobbles for over a minute before the drums are finally invited to the party. “My love for you is real,” sings Dan, heavy with emotion. “Stay true in my mind.” Everything’s romantic and awesome, but then he hits us with the devastating truth. “Goodbye – I heard you were leaving.” Goddamn. Sonically, if not lyrically, it’s one of the lighter tracks on the album, even though the drums stack up harder and harder towards the climax.
At first it seems like Dan is sweeping away the love life worries from the previous track under the carpet for ’10 Lovers’ and its premium pound of funk. A serious bass-line is laid down over tight drums and a Hammond organ led melody line. But evidently he’s still a touch worried about the object of his affections: “If I find another love, they must be forever true,” he sings before a breakdown perfectly primed for a live performance and a stadium sized clap along. “She’s alright, but you’re all wrong,” he adds, obviously feeling some severe man-pain, as the tune skips from major to minor and back again.
‘In Our Prime’
Starting with a simple keyboard melody, at first it seems like we’ve gone back to the slower style of earlier in the album. A minute in however and the song spreads itself out into an almost Beatles-esque proposition, with some definite hints of The Kinks in there too. “The house was burned but nothing there was mine/we had it all when we were in our prime,” sings Dan before the estimated 45th guitar solo of the record. A fuzzy fade out leads us towards the final track of ‘Turn Blue’… and what a track it is.
‘Gotta Get Away’
We started big and we finish even bigger. Whilst the rest of the album deals with the trials of love in a measured, thoughtful fashion, ‘Gotta Get Away’ is just a big, dumb rock song – which is possibly the best kind of song that there is. Undoubtedly this record’s ‘Lonely Boy’, the song’s most obvious musical touchstone is Creedence Clearwater Revival. “I went from San Berdoo to Kalamazoo/Just to get away from you,” hollers Dan, in the catchiest line of the past 46 minutes. A rollicking, road-tripping sing-along, The Black Keys should be forced to bust this out of the ‘Turn Blue’ bag at Glastonbury and Latitude this summer. Sexiness factor? To quote another Nashville band – it’s on fire.