It’s difficult to really appreciate Turn Blue, The Black Keys’ eighth studio album, without placing yourself in the proper setting. It’s far from a party album, and it’s hardly something that can be really enjoyed between a group of friends. Frontman Dan Auberbach called the album “headphone music,” which it definitely is. It’s best understood with two noise cans strapped to your ears, relatively disconnected from everything else.
This was made apparent during a recent week-long road trip that I went on with a group of friends. The first day saw us driving for ten hours. As is the case with most road trips, it began with a sense of shared euphoria–excitement over the ensuing freedom, possibilities endless. But as we left home and the city became suburbs, which lead to farmland and, eventually, nothing, that energy flickered and faded, everyone in the car finding their attention drifting elsewhere.
It was at that point in time–when I had nothing to do but wait, alone with my thoughts–that I really found myself growing fond of the Danger Mouse-co-produced project. And thank God. I really wanted to like the album, being the Keys fan that I am (it’s a contractual obligation for anybody born in Ohio). And while previous attempts in the car, at the gym and with my friends didn’t lead me to enjoy it much, the long, winding roads ended up being the perfect catalyst.
This is an album about introspection, and it’s a bit depressing in corners. In that sense it shares a lot in common with the Keys’ most recent outing with Danger Mouse, 2010’s Brothers, which featured much of the same melancholic DNA. But while Brothers was clearly made with a wider audience in mind, Turn Blue is a more focused, consistent effort. Even the high notes are highlighted with dark undertones.
This is best exemplified by “Gotta Get Away.” On the surface, it’s classic Keys: melodic, fun and ready-made for any number of SportsCenter highlight compilations. Get past the surface and start listening to the actual lyrics, though–with Auerbach fantasizing about fleeing a relationship–and it’s not cause for ebullience. “In Time” and “Fever” also follow this pattern.
But the album’s most memorable moments come from the tracks that, without hesitation, aim for a moodier vibe. The sobering riffs of “Turn Blue,” the title track, are hard to ignore, as are Auerbach’s take on unrequited love on “Waiting On Words.” And then the trance-like opening of “Weight Of Love”–just don’t try to fight it. There’s a lot of emotion there to appreciate.
The first day of our road trip featured substantially more car time than any day following. It also was the only time that I really found myself vibing to Turn Blue. Coincidence? Doubtful. Shuffling the deck away from their stadium-rocking ways, the Keys would appear to have put out the exact album that they wanted to in this point in their careers. It might take awhile to fully appreciate and understand that, but especially when comparing it to past projects, I anticipate looking back on ‘Blue’ fondly.