You’d probably be surprised to hear that this marks The Black Keys‘ eighth album. Say what? Yes. Even though they finally had their major breakthrough in 2010 with their Grammy-winning Brothers album, the duo has actually been at it since 2002. Well, for #8, Turn Blue, the boys seem to shy away from the toe-tapping rock that got them into the mainstream for a mellow sound, and they aren’t better for it.
Look no further than the opening track, “Weight Of Love”, a pompous 7-minute track that doesn’t have enough substance to sustain its length. Sure, the guitars sound great in the solos, recalling Led Zeppelin (that’s a very generous comparison), but the band chooses to rely on Dan Auerbach‘s vocals here (and on several tracks) to sustain interest, and the frontman doesn’t have the voice to pull it off. Dan produced Ray LaMontagne‘s recent Supernova, and Ray has the strong voice to be the singular compelling factor on a track. Dan does not. “Weight Of Love” starts it all off on the wrong foot, and they hit the same wrong note on the title track and “Waiting On Words”. Take a listen to “Bullet In The Brain”: it’s sleepy acoustic start puts you to sleep but once the drums kick in, it jolts you to life.
When the boys rock out, the album works. “It’s Up To You Now”, with its banging drums that sounds like a track cavemen would have jammed to, suddenly completely changes its melody to emphasize a stellar guitar solo. It’s an easy standout. The horn pops on “In Time” horn pops recharges things after the odd “Weight Of Love” and its multiple voices singing the chorus make it a singalong that you want to be part of. “10 Lovers” uses a bass guitar groove that gives them about as much of an R&B groove as The Black Keys will ever have. The stellar closer, “Gotta Get Away”, has the duo doing sunny pop music on their own terms.
The Black Keys have always mixed their vocals to an equal level within the music so it’s all one mashup of sounds, instead of putting the vocals at the forefront. When you think about their great music, you think of those driving drumbeats or rockin’ guitars, never the voice. Well, too often on True Blue, the voice tries to carry the song, and it disappoints. People are going to fall all over this album because it’s The Black Keys, but they can do better than this, and they have.
Listen to the full album here: