Album Review: The Black Keys, ‘Turn Blue’

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Change is a good thing.

It’s a tried and true statement for a very good reason — the same old, same old can get tired very easily. Yet when it comes to art, in particular, music, change is a tricky beast. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Bands are equally lambasted for “sounding the same on every record” and “why’d they change their sound?” all the time.

The question is, could The Black Keys be the exception to this musical Sisyphean conundrum?

The reason for this postulation is because when you look at the DNA of the duo, they’ve done nothing that conforms to any kind of musical trend. When they burst out onto the scene with “Tighten Up” it hit because it was so radically unique. It was rock ‘n’ roll, but it had an alternative edge to it, but it was also super accessible to mainstream audiences. Remember their hip-hop super group BLAKROC? (If you don’t make it a priority to check it out). Basically, The Black Keys have produced their brand of music, trends be damned.

The problem is, but once they hit the music stratosphere, the masses really attached themselves to a lot of the more garage rocky sounds that were constantly played on radio stations cross the country.

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With their new record Turn Blue The Black Keys change everything. The garage rock sound has been replaced by a more psychedelic, groove laden, dare we say sometimes poppy sound. There’s no loud, dissonant, big guitar riffs or 100 mph anthems.

The perfect example of the band’s shift in sound is their lead single, ‘Fever.’ It’s wildly different from anything we’ve heard, singles wise, from The Black Keys. In fact, when we reviewed it last month for our Singles Party column I said, ‘ This is nothing like the bluesy rock of the Black Keys tracks that litter my Spotify that I adore. But, I can’t dismiss it — it’s an unbelievably good pop song. It’s got such great hooks and you definitely can play this over again and again at a high clip and enjoy it. I also see this being such a big commercial crossover — literally soundtracking countless trailers and commercials. But, does this make my playlist? Does it hook me that much? Does it stick it with me? Do I care about it enough? That’s why I’m copping out — I cannot legitimately make up my mind. This song requires a few more listens over a longer time period to give a proper answer.’

Despite initial hesitation the track has really grown on me. It’s become this oddly infectious anthem with a hook that just won’t quit…kinda like ‘Tighten Up.’

Outside of ‘Fever,’ the rest of the album is vintage Black Keys — airtight production, an unending supply of tasty hooks, brilliant musicianship and intoxicating vocals.

If there’s any advice this reviewer could give a hesitant listener it’s this — listen to Turn Blue throughout your day. This isn’t a record that blows your mind on the first run through. It’s the kind of album you let seep into your mind, let it trick down into your soul. It’s a record that becomes better with each listen, where you find something next and exciting each time around.

So, while The Black Keys have “changed” their sound on their latest record, they’ve never changed who they are as a band. They hold true to their values of making honest, catchy and quite frankly, excellent music that defies any genre expectations.

Turn Blue is currently streaming for free on iTunes Radio’s ‘First Play’ Station. Click here to listen.

Related Articles:

Singles Party: The Black Keys, ‘Fever’ (Staff)

Review: El Camino by The Black Keys (Jason Stives)

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites