It was around the time of 2008's Attack & Release where The Black Keys first began their metamorphosis from that of a gritty, garage rock duo to the arena-filling rock act we see at the top of the charts nowadays. Up until that point in the Ohioan bands discography, they had been largely content with working within their strict guitar/drums policy, forgoing additional elements to stick rigidly to the ethos they had successfully mined over their previous four records.
Then came Attack & Release and, perhaps more significantly, their first dalliance with producer Danger Mouse. Brian Burton, as he is known when stripped of his rodent moniker, widened the band's sound and vastly expanded the sonic palette from which they work, affording them luxuries that had been passed over on previous records. The most obvious example of this was the addition of bass to some of the tracks on Attack & Release, as well as subsequent releases Brothers, El Camino and, now, Turn Blue. For a band who ignored the four strings for so long, it's so interesting to see how bass has become such a central part of the Black Keys' sound and it's a central driving force behind almost every song on Turn Blue.
It's no coincidence that Danger Mouse's partnership with The Black Keys has resulted in the most successful years in the bands history, at least in terms of record sales and public profile and on this record, perhaps more-so than any other, Danger Mouse's fingerprints can be found all over it. Turn Blue has less radio-friendly singles than its predecessor El Camino. There isn't really a companion for 'Lonely Boy' or 'Gold On The Ceiling' here, thought the closest resemblances would likely be 'Fever' and title-track 'Turn Blue'. In place of these, there's a more prosaic, meandering approach as evidenced by the seven-minute psychedelia of album opener 'Weight of Love', or singer Dan Auerbach's now familiar falsetto on 'In Time' or 'Waiting On Words'.
No proper appraisal of a Black Keys record would be complete without mention of Patrick Carney's cavernous skills behind the drum kit. Carney has always been the diesel engine from which Auerbach's gentle melodies were born, but rarely has his output seemed so Bonham-esque in power and delivery as it does throughout this record.
Whoever first mentioned the name Danger Mouse to the Black Keys should be commended. This alliance between producer and band has massively altered the Black Keys' musical direction and resulted, both critically and commercially, in the most successful period of their existence. While some fans who "prefer the early stuff" might bemoan the lack of the gritty rawness which first made people sit up and take note, there's little benefit in remaining constant and producing the same record over and over when you have it in you to make an album as eclectic as Turn Blue.
Review by John Balfe | FOUR STARS