With the release of El Camino three years ago, The Blacks Keys were rewarded not only with commercial success, but they were also labelled as an arena-ready band. And so began the El Camino tour. A gruelling year and a half of vast European/American dates that saw the beginning of Dan Auerbach’s divorce from his wife, Stephanie Gonis. If you were expecting The Black Keys to continue down the same “camino” (the Spanish for path – see what I did there?), with radio friendly singles and stadium filling anthem rock, then get ready to be disappointed.
The album opens promisingly with the psychedelic track ‘Weight of Love’, a glorious seven minutes of hypnotic guitar solos and soulful choruses. If you light some incense sticks and close your eyes while this plays, don’t be surprised if you awaken back in 1965, with beads for doors and a sudden urge to protest against the Vietnam war. Unfortunately that early promise soon dissipates, with the repetitive ‘Fever’, a single that sounds more suited as a B-side to any track from El Camino. This safe, and slightly stale approach has been credited to the return of producer/buddy Danger Mouse, with many critics believing his continued hand at the helm a hindrance.
However you feel about the choice of musical direction, you can’t argue that the band aren’t being bold in their choice of follow-up to an album that went platinum in the US. To suddenly throw out the radio friendly rock and record an album that reflects on a turbulent chapter in the lead singers life is anything but safe. In Auerbach’s words, this is a “headphone record”. This is something for you to mull over and let sink in. This record is a challenge.
Not only is this a challenge to the listener but also the band. As ever, they have thrown all manner of genres in to the blender and hit go. There’s the R&B/soul of ’10 Lovers’, the blues rock of singles ‘Fever’ and ‘Turn Blue’ and the southern rock’n’roll of final track ‘Gotta Get Away’, and it is with this final song that the album comes to a neat end. The pain of Auerbach’s divorce laid bare this up-tempo summer anthem signifies the end of his agonizing journey. Whatever lays ahead, Auerbach knows for sure it’s at least a new chapter.
This album shouldn’t be seen as a disappointment or failure. More a chance to open your mind to different approaches by your favourite musicians. Turn Blue may take a more melancholy stance but after all, that’s why they call it the blues.