The Black Keys' 2002 debut was a refreshing dose of raw rock and roll, no frills, loud and unadorned, at a time when rock and roll barely existed in it's known format. The Keys flew the flag and album after album was an affirmation of the beauty of the basics of rock and roll, those three wonderful chords well it's probably a few more than three. Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach have continued that do it yourself approach but the sound has undergone a gradual transformation, the addition of producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) has added some sonic refinements as witnessed on the El Camino album. For any other band this could spell disaster but for the Black Keys it has taken their sound to a new level, there is still that entrenched blues feeling but it sits comfortably alongside more psychedelic infused connotations and Motown inspired foot tappers.
The new album Turn Blue sees the band shy away somewhat from the anthemic sounds of El Camino to something a little more organic but an album that still resonates with catchy hooks, punchy rhythms and smart concise lyrics. You can see the development of Dan Auerbach the musician through his production work, the poly afro centric rhythms he dispensed on Dr John's Locked Down, to the spacey psychedelic sounds of Ray La Montagne's Supernova album. The opening track Weight of Love has a Dark Side of The Moon style feel, very dense sounding, cascading guitar followed by a deep pulsating bass, the rhythm is catchy and persistent and is benefited for the embellishments of Danger Mouse who adds little flourishes when required. In Time captures that sense of urgency and desperation that underpins a lot of The Black Keys' lyrics,
You got a worried mind
I've got a worried heart
You don't know what to do
I don't know where to start
You let this beat us down
Well get up off the ground
Fever starts with an insistent bass line, it's got a great keyboard hook many may look to it as the albums Lonely Boy but the Keys have moved beyond that. The simplicity of the song is what it makes it so damn good, Auerbach has seemingly moved to the four strings as his mode of expression. Year in Review kicks off with Patrick Carney's pounding percussion, now here is a drummer as the patterns emerging have become more complex, the more the drummer has risen to the occasion. Bullet in The Brain return to that Pink Floyd groove, plenty of space for Auerbach's guitar, then the verse hits and that bass line kicks in funky and understated all in one. It's Up To You Now revisits a little of the early days with that distorted guitar and thumping bass laden drums. But even the old is updated, a great pulverising bass line is added, the song has a more crisp feel.
Turn It Blue has a distinct flow, it builds and envelops, the layers descending on each song like a dense mist. Then that mist floats away leaving some more earthy and bare a return to something more primal perhaps an affirmation that the essence is not lost nor diluted merely given a new context.