black-keys-turn-blue[xrr rating=3.5/5]The Black Keys’ blend of garage blues and soul has helped them steadily rise to the top of alternative rock since the 2010 release of Brothers. Their rise in popularity has plenty of Grammys to show for it. After their breakout record and the platinum follow-up El Camino, the Black Keys’ eighth album has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Turn Blue goes above and beyond. The core of its success is the amalgamation of the Akron duo’s musical influences into one rarified rock style that offers plenty of commercial appeal, along with blistering blues and influences ranging from hip-hop to electronica.

Turn Blue once again sees guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney pair up with producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton to helm the project. As he did on El Camino, Danger Mouse continues his more expansive role as co-writer. Having collaborated on and co-produced the band’s past three albums, Danger Mouse by this point intuitively understands how to expand the Black Keys’ reach, adding effortless dynamism while layering each track to accentuate tension and emotion. And nowhere else is that better heard than the calling card opener “Weight of Love.”

It takes guts for a rock duo to open a highly anticipated album with seven minutes of ambient and twanging electric guitar. “Weight of Love” is fraught with emotional resentment and Auerbach’s indulgence in his guitar solos carry that tension throughout. The slow burner announces the Keys’ intentions with Turn Blue from the start. It bristles with a confidence bolstered by chart success and critical praise, all of which points to the Keys’ reaching their creative pinnacle and being unashamed of flaunting that fact. The odyssey of “Weight of Love” leads into the protracted “In Time” and its squelching guitar is perfectly complemented by Auerbach’s semi-falsetto. From there, the rumbling title track rounds out the impressive top of the album and makes extensive use of Auerbach’s ominous crooning.

“Fever” is Turn Blue’s first single and smooths out the Keys’ bluesy rawness with a playful synth line and simple lyrics. By far the most uncharacteristic song on the record, the track’s bridge and final euphoric guitar riff make up for the inevitable annoyance the synth will cause with constant radio play. “It’s Up to You Now” and “Gotta Get Away” continue the fast-paced, radio-friendly emphasis. The latter is the most straightforward rock song on the album with a chorus riddled with references to traveling the blacktop. Judging by its broad pop appeal, there’s little doubt it will be a summer single. “It’s Up to You Now” opens with a cacophony of drums and distorted guitar over a distanced vocal that veers into the space age-y towards the song’s tail end.

Turn Blue ultimately manages to do something most albums aspire to but few achieve: present a slew of extremely diverse tracks together in one cohesive album that captures the essence of the band’s signature sound. Auerbach’s guitar and Carney’s drum rolls meld seamlessly from the audacious “Weight of Love” to the closing “Gotta Get Away.” And while the album is littered with potential radio hits, the songs never cease to be engaging and, more importantly, innovative. “Bullet in the Brain,” with Auerbach’s crooning and its driving bass line, can conceivably be a hit single for the band and manages to stand alongside “Fever.” In the end, it’s songs like these that showcase the comprehensive evolution the Black Keys have experienced over the past decade.

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