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The Black Keys Trade In Winning Formula With “Turn Blue”

There was a moment about three years ago when I fell in love with The Black Keys. It wasn’t in 2010 when Brothers came out. Sure “Tighten Up” was a great song and it’s impossible to not like “Howlin For You.” The moment I fell head over heels for The Black Keys was the first time I heard “Lonely Boy,” the first single from the bands 2010 effort El Camino. The way the feedback lingers, just for a second before the guitar kicks in followed by an onslaught of drums and keys. It just worked.

I’m sad to report that the love is starting fade. What drove El Camino home were the vocal heavy, guitar driven tracks that worked on so many levels. It’s been a few years and The Black Keys have returned with the eagerly anticipated album Turn Blue. Gone are the precise guitar riffs and powerful vocals. In their place, almost like impostors, are faded guitar tracks full of ’60s style distortion. You hear it right oft the bat with “Weight of Love.” The nearly seven minute song is all over the place. The guitar playing is excellent but it builds to nowhere. Building to nowhere would become a theme of the entire album.

An odd diversion for The Black Keys, the album seems to be a fight over what type of sounds the band should produce. Songs like “In Time” sound more like the Flaming Lips than the Keys and it only got worse from there. “Fever,” the albums first single, could literally be a Franz Ferdinand song and there’s Arctic Monkey style songs littered all over the place (listen to “Year In Review” or “It’s Up To You Now”).

It’s no crime to tailor your sound to sound differently as you progress. The way The Black Keys did it here just bothers me. They were a band with a clear direction and they seem to have abandoned in completely.

Another take away from this album is the lack of a “moment.” Individual songs seem to build to nothing. There is no moment like the one in “Little Black Submarine.” There is no memorable guitar riff or vocal pattern. Instead it’s an album that feels way more experimental than anything. Experimenting just doesn’t seem like the right direction to go in after back-to-back Platinum releases and a slew of mainstream success.

What many in the pop world don’t realize is that The Black Keys were around for about 10 years before they broke out in 2010. Is this them reverting back to their roots? That would be the easy way out. Older albums like 2003′s Thickfreakness were guitar driven and well pieced together. The band simply refined their patented sound year after year. For some reason they decided 2014 was the year to blow it up.

This was an album that I had been looking forward to for a long time. While I expect certain songs will grow on me over time, the edge is missing in a dire way. The Black Keys have let me down and if you’re expecting more of what you found on Brothers and El Camino, I’m afraid to say you’re going to be asking when the band is hitting the studio again.

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