The Black Keys offer heart, depth with latest, album

Published 10:14 pm Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Black Keys’ seventh studio album, 2011’s “El Camino,” burst to life with a flurry of guitars and drums in what may be the band’s best radio single: “Lonely Boy.”

The band’s eighth studio album, “Turn Blue,” unfolds gradually with the nearly seven-minute “Weight of Love,” which may be one of the band’s best songs to date.

What “Turn Blue” may lack in radio power and instant gratification, The Black Keys more than make up for with an album full of heart and depth.

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“El Camino” and 2010’s “Brothers” helped propel The Black Keys — singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney — to new fame, but the albums progressively sacrificed some of the raw, gritty qualities of earlier albums.

On “Turn Blue,” the band lays off their roaring, bluesy guitars and heavy drums approach for a more psychedelic sound featuring keyboards. The result is the Keys’ most lush and full album to date.

Part of that is thanks to Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton. The producer adds keyboards and co-wrote the album with Auerbach and Carney — making the band more a trio on this release.

Some have criticized the album for Burton’s influences, as tracks like “Fever” and “10 Lovers” take the band in a new direction with more electronic pop. Others have said it’s too much of a Burton album. I don’t buy it.

Burton is a master at providing atmospheric elements, but his past collaborations ran into problems when texture masqueraded as substance. Make no mistake, Auerbach and Carney are still out in front, but its nice to have Burton fill the gaps.

The album’s critics are likely mistaking the band’s evolving sound for the group letting Burton take control. Don’t forget, Auerbach is also a respected producer known for bringing new life to Doctor John and Ray LaMontagne’s careers by getting them to leave their comfort zones.

On “Turn Blue,” The Black Keys leave their comfort zone and that is not a bad thing. The best bands adapt and change.

Auerbach and Carney have said “Weight of Love” set the tone for the recording sessions and helped them transition from a focus on radio-friendly music to what they’ve called a “headphones record.”

“Weight of Love” harkens back to 1970s rock ‘n’ roll with Auerbach saving his biting guitars for a solo to end the epic track. It’s a track that will make many rock fans hope the band never tries recording radio singles again.

The Keys follow it up with “In Time,” which is driven by Auerbach’s soulful, emotion-fueled vocals. Again, Auerbach eases his guitar licks and saves his most piercing playing for the right moments.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t radio-friendly tracks. The first single “Fever” is jarringly catchy and showcases the heavier influence on keyboards.

But introspective tracks like “Bullet in the Brain” and “Year in Review” push the singles material to the side.

The tracks also show why this may be The Black Keys’ “Blood on the Tracks” — the 1975 album that saw Bob Dylan return to more personal songwriting after a divorce. Auerbach’s lyrics also are more personal after his divorce. Though a bit stereotypical, he’s admitted in interviews it’s the cause of the album’s moody feel.

The band’s altered sound won’t please all the duo’s fans, but no one wants to hear a band record the same album over and over.

“Turn Blue”

By The Black Keys

4.5 out of 5 stars

Track listing

Turn Blue

1. Weight of Love

2. In Time

3. Turn Blue

4. Fever

5. Year in Review

6. Bullet in the Brain

7. It’s Up to You Now

8. Waiting on Words

9. 10 Lovers

10. In Our Prime

11. Gotta Get Away

 Other listens:

For a look back at The Black Keys’ roots as a true due, check out “Magic Potion.”

The band’s original base of fans appreciate the group’s simpler approach on the album. There’s no keyboards and not many production elements. It’s just bluesy rock recorded by singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney in Carney’s basement.

It’s all guitar and drums.

Key tracks: “Just Got to Be,” “Your Touch” and “Modern Times,”