Once upon a time, The Black Keys were two childhood friends & college dropouts from Akron, Ohio that built up an underground fan base playing revitalized blues-rock. Today, The Black Keys are one of the biggest rock bands of the twenty-first century, debuting at number one on the charts and getting into feuds with the likes of Jack White and Justin Bieber. It should really surprise no one that the band has gone big with Turn Blue (which debuted at #1), throwing in the likes of synthesizers and psych-rock, for a sound that does mostly work, after a fashion, even if it’s not The Black Keys you remember from Ohio.
Everybody’s got synthesizers these days, and disco is so back it’s like it never left, so it’s kind of no wonder that The Black Keys go sly and smooth on songs like “In Time”, “Turn Blue”, “Waiting On Words”, and “10 Lovers”. The songs work for what they are, some better than others (“In Time” and “10 Lovers” are the better ones), but yes, you will wonder, ‘Is this The Black Keys?’
The psych-rock outings – another style that’s seen a considerable upswing in recent times – are more fitting for The Black Keys, but unfortunately aren’t as rewarding. Perhaps because it is more fitting, thus less unexpected, the guitar wail open of opener “Weight of Love” or psych effects galore to “In Our Prime” just feel like some extra stuff laid atop The Black Keys’ blues foundation, as opposed to being as original as the smoother material.
And The Black Keys did these moves no favors by having two absolutely excellent blues-rock songs that just scream, “This is The Black Keys!” Single “Fever” has a pressing staccato that makes it well worthy of being another ‘fever’ song, while closer “Gotta Get Away” is just such a fun rollick that one can’t help but wish that the whole album had been like it. Of course, that would have been repetitive, while having only a few ‘old Black Keys’ numbers makes them more special (and lets the band only choose the best).
The Black Keys aren’t the boys from Akron anymore, and they haven’t been for quite a long time. The success of 2010’s Brothers (QRO review) launched them into the big-time, and next year’s quick follow-up El Camino (QRO review) could have lulled one into thinking that they wouldn’t change (as opposed to what did happen, which was an album recorded around the same time as Brothers, i.e., pre-mega-stardom). And you wouldn’t have wanted them to repeat themselves. So this is where The Black Keys are now, where they’re going, and there’s no turning back.