The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach told Rolling Stone that the goal with the duo’s eighth album, “Turn Blue,” out tomorrow (13), was to make a “headphone record.”
Well, they have certainly done that.
In fact, listening to the album through speakers feels like you’re doing it a disservice and missing lovingly crafted details. “Turn Blue” is an album that is meant to be heard in its entirety with your full attention as the music pans from left to right and flows from your ears into your brain. It is not background music. In fact, we’d suggest to get the full effect, sink into a bean bag chair and a lava lamp.
The album gets off to a trippy start with the nearly seven-minute fuzzy opus,“Weight Of Love.” But that only hints at what’s to come. On “Turn Blue,” a punchy guitar line morphs into a sonic wave that threatens to blow your mind via headphones, and if “Weight of Love” recalls Pink Floyd, wait until you get to “Bullet in the Brain.” It practically demands to be listened to alongside “Comfortably Numb.”
First single, “Fever,” is one of the most straight ahead rock tracks on the album, but even it has the Black Keys’ usual little tics that make it sound unlike anything else on the radio. Plus, it includes the most delightful use of a farfisa organ since ? Mark & The Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” before it seemingly shifts into a different song.
Lyrically, the album deals primarily with romantic disillusionment and betrayal, such as on “Bullet In The Brain,” when Auerbach sings “I let you use my gifts to back those lying lips.”
Auerbach has turned into such an accomplished producer —in the last two years alone, he’s worked with Ray LaMontagne, Lana Del Rey, Dr. John, and Michael Kiwanuka —but here the band gets an able assist from Danger Mouse, who ups the psychedelic factor.
Part of The Black Keys appeal has always been Carney’s drumming, which is more upfront in the mix than many other drummers, but never overwhelms the song. On the hypnotic “It’s Up To You Now,” percussion takes the lead, setting the tone as the song shifts tempos from frenetic to druggy, but never veers from the ‘70s rock that influenced it.
In fact, the album seldom leaves the ‘70s thematically, even if it does change styles. On “Waiting On Words,” even though the song is produced like a rock track, Auerbach delivers a soulful vocal that recalls Smokey Robinson filtered through a tremolo guitar.
The Black Keys haven’t abandoned the funk that got them so far on their last album, 2011’s “El Camino,” but it gets slightly muted here on songs like the swaying “10 Lovers.”
Auerbach and Carney deserve credit for staying so true to the ‘70s premise, but it doesn’t necessarily wear well. By the time track 10, “In Our Prime,” rolls around and Auerbach goes into a wonky guitar solo, it’s the tiniest bit tedious, but then the band comes back and closes with “Gotta Get Away,” a straight-ahead rocker that is so poppy it practically pops out of the speakers and starts dancing on the floor by itself. It doesn’t have the usual heft of a Black Keys’ tune but that’s part of its appeal. It’s lightweight and frothy and utterly delectable. Maybe that could be the starting point for album number nine.