The Black Keys – Turn Blue

Less ‘El Camino’, more a bright yellow Lamborghini.

Label: Nonesuch

Rating:

Swagger is a trait that has long been associated with rock ‘n roll. Ever since the characters that influenced Grease’s Danny Zuko and his leather-jacketed delinquent pals in the 1950s, there’s a grand assumption that rockers are, well, ballsy.

And yet, with the worldwide smash that was 2011’s ‘El Camino’, countless prime-time television appearances, main stage festival sets and the complete ubiquity of its lead single, ‘Lonely Boy’ throughout that year and beyond, The Black Keys never quite seemed to have it. Sure, Dan Auerbach could riff the riffs and howl the howl, but he – and even moreso partner in crime Patrick Carney – always seemed all a bit unassuming.

If nothing else, ‘Turn Blue’ is the album to put that idea to bed. As sun-soaked Los Angeles as it’s possible to get this side of a Best Coast video – and largely recorded right there in Hollywood at Sunset Sound – it’s far less ‘El Camino’ (or even the Plymouth Grand Voyager the pair put on the cover), more a bright yellow Lamborghini.

It’s glossy; it’s slick; it’s letting the world know that The Black Keys are big enough and successful enough to use every trick in the book – or studio. From the pulsating disco of lead single ‘Fever’, to the made-for-sync ‘In Time’ that appears to have curiously taken a smidgen from Charli XCX/Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’ in its chorus, via the sleaziest of 70s soft rock numbers in the record’s title track, ‘Turn Blue’ is the product of a band feeling to be at the peak of their powers.

The key word there is feeling – because it’s also a largely confused album. There’s little of the raw blues-rock that made their name; only the first half of the percussion-heavy ‘It’s Up To You Now’ nods that way. ‘Waiting On Words’ could sit easily in a Robbie Williams record, while closer ‘Gotta Get Away’ hints at going the full Elton John. ‘Year In Review’ bows down to disco, and ‘In Our Prime’ changes tone more often than a teenager’s mood ring.

There’s odd sprinklings of synths here and there – one might guess this is the touch of long-time collaborator Danger Mouse – but weirdly the songs work better the more then lean towards his sound than the pair’s own: ‘Fever’, ‘Year In Review’ and ‘10 Lovers’ easily stand out, where while the Americana-tinged ‘Weight of Love’, ‘Bullet in the Brain’ and ‘Turn Blue’ might suit Sunset Boulevard at dusk brilliantly, they won’t do similar for a rainy British afternoon.

So, much like that fancy sports car, ‘Turn Blue’ is big, bombastic and very well made. Just, at points, a teensy bit ostentatious.