The monumental success of El Camino and particularly its big hit single Lonely Boy made The Black Keys a pop act; perhaps reluctantly but you can only dine out on stories of making records in 30 hours in abandoned tire factories for so long, right? Time to get paid. And as a hard-working duo/full-band-when-it-suits The Black Keys left garage rock a long time ago, back with the early, incorrect comparisons to The White Stripes.
Still, with Turn Blue it’s the first time I’ve found it impossible to believe them – it all feels, now, like a cynical stab in the direction of credibility. And now they have two audiences to tame, the faithful-enough who put up with the pop deviations because the reputation is still there that this band rocks hard and the new fly-by-nighters who just want a shimmy-tune or two since Lonely Boy’s a bit old now.
Turn Blue is an excellent attempt to serve two masters – and is therefore a worthless piece of shit if you’ve ever cared about this band.
Opener Weight of Love hints at yet another new direction (but actually it’s just the slow death of a band framing Clapton-esque guitar solos inside a water-colour version of psychedelic rock-meets-slow/ish blues).
In Time opens with a vague reference to the chomping rhythm of the Bee Gees’ Jive Talkin’, a hint to run quick perhaps before Fever arrives – the first single from this album, a hopeless and cruel retooling of disco tinges and indie-huckster bedsit bullshit. The guys that made Thickfreakness are allowed to grow old, sure. But they should still be disgusted with themselves for serving up this nearly-treacle bullshit.
There are reminders of the band’s old stomp (It’s Up To You Now) but there’s also plenty of sick-making new “grooves” – 10 Lovers is less a Black Keys leftover and more a case of some Chromeo-aping laziness that Danger Mouse couldn’t quite fit on the last Broken Bells album (which was shit too, by the way).
As the Keys sink further into this smug gear-change it makes it harder to believe that they ever meant anything. So you can take your Big Come Up and Brothers and Rubber Factory and chuck ‘em. That band/those bands ain’t ever coming back.
We’re stuck now with some one-foot-in/one-foot-out pop star bullshit, slick and drossy and stupid. The songs have no crunch, there’s no goodness here. It’s all made to sound thin and vacuous and so unbelievably fad-ish.
That’s what I miss. There’s just no kick here. There’s no snarl. There’s nothing beyond some fake cool-nonchalance. The acknowledgment of turning blue suggests that universal truth – as far as The Black Keys go, we know now this bitch’ll never fuck again.
Fuck you, Black Keys. We’re done.