Album Review: The Black Keys – Turn Blue

turn blueEditor’s Note: The Black Keys will be performing at Cincinnati, Ohio’s Bunbury Music Festival Friday, June 5. Single day tickets are still available here. Check Live From The Internet for festival coverage and videos.

The Black Keys have become quite a polarizing band. The duo once thrived on stripped down blues only between each other, but in recent years have expanded into a broader, radio friendly rock. Some fans have shunned the band for this, others are in favor of the new sound. You’ll find some that just aren’t sure what to think.

My thoughts have varied for each of, let’s call them The Black Keys 2.0‘s, albums. Upon release, Brothers was clearly the best of their records for me, but since I’ve backed off that a little while remaining positive. I did not enjoy El Camino for long because its sound grew stale quickly to me. And Turn Blue may not be The Black Keys’ best record, maybe not even 2.0’s, but it still has things going for it.

This album is the duo’s first venture into unabashed psychedelic rock. It feels like an appropriate change of pace for the band following El Camino, an album that just got so stuck in a boring sound. While Turn Blue doesn’t reinvent any psychedelic wheels, it serves its purposes more than averagely for the most part.

Its a project that is at its best when the band is coming close to letting all hands off the wheel to see where the song drives toward. Great examples include ‘Bullet in the Brain’ and ‘It’s Up to You Now’. The first certainly borrows its sound from pioneers like Pink Floyd, but it does enough to feel like a Black Keys song by the time its over. And the latter feels as loose as the band has felt in several albums. Guided by its buzzing guitar lead and rumbling drum backbone, the song just leads you onward through hazy lyrics that feel like classic Black Keys. It’s the best song on the album.

Lots of other songs are good but feel more restrained. They have the flavor of a good psychedelic song but sound written for a stadium tour with booming singalong choruses. Sometimes that just sucks the authenticity out of a woozy psych song.

But that affinity for stadium rock is what got The Black Keys 2.0 to where they are today. Although certain songs don’t feel as inspired on record, they do translate in person rather nicely. A few songs from Brothers that were forgettable to me became highlights of a 2012 concert in Cincinnati’s US Bank Arena.

Overall, The Black Keys 2.0 are now a band I’m less excited to hear on record. Instead, my focus has shifted to their live experience. They seem to have shifted their focus the same way. For better or worse, it’s what it is. At the end of the day, it’s a solid album. It’s just up to you to decide how far it’s going to take you.

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