by The Insomniac
Top Tracks: The Weight of Love, It’s Up to You Now, 10 Lovers
The blues just wasn’t blue enough.
The Black Keys are back this past week with Turn Blue, their eighth LP, out on Nonesuch Records. Having been so satisfied with Brothers and El Camino, I had forgotten the Keys were due for some new music. The old stuff just hadn’t gotten old yet. That was until I saw Spin post a link to their first new single off the album, “Fever”, a few weeks back, a song that’s already seemingly everywhere. Understandably, it’s the logical choice to pick as it is packaged and ready to consume by mass radio audiences, but this first taste left me feeling a bit deprived. There was something about the track that felt so shallow for an album touted as being a more “deep” effort. A nice paint job can go far but the engine didn’t sound like the Key’s signature soulful blues.
If this was your initial reaction, a second chance is in order. There is heart to be found if you listen to the full release, especially straight through. If you do, a weird, dark journey towards an new universe awaits thanks to producer Brian Burton, AKA Danger Mouse. I picture Auerbach and Carney stuck on a runaway train in a spaghetti western with Danger Mouse as the conductor. They’re going to be stuck there so they sing their sorrows as the train moves on. The environments familiar to fans of Broken Bells evoke themselves very obviously throughout the record. Even some of the choirs from Danger Mouse’s past release Rome seem to peak through and back Auerbach’s swooning as if to comfort him as he rests the end of his six shooter on the rim of a half empty glass of bourbon. The largest benefit of forcing these masters of messy blues into Burton’s world is that they gain freedom to explore new instruments, stories, and emotions. Dissecting their lyrics, it seems evident they hunkered down in this new place to let out some pain.
My favorite track is the first, “The Weight of Love”. It’s the haunting opener, the anthem, the brush painting the mysterious introductory landscape, the announcement of what this album is about. From the name, you could imagine some of the themes that found their way into the songwriting. Auerbach’s divorce during the past year seemed to have given way to darker ballads, like “Bullet in the Brain”. The woman Cupid had him chasing during previous albums was now in the cross-hairs of that six shooter.
I’m not sure where I sit after finishing this record, though I feel it’s one that takes time to digest. The album’s finishing track “Gotta Get Away” brings back the sunshine and the type of shallow but fun mood that ran through the veins of El Camino. Because of this, it’s hard to say if this was a one-time adventure into the dark blue west or not. Where does this leave the band? Is this their catharsis or will the pain stick? Give it a listen and maybe you’ll have a chance to see where their heads are at.