It’s hard to avoid the narrative trap of filtering an artist’s new music through the lens of their personal life. Here, it’s a non-issue because it’s completely unavoidable. The Black Keys‘ frontman Dan Auerbach went through quite a messy divorce last winter that involved alleged suicide attempts, abuse, and custody battles over a child and a lock of celebrity hair. Which turned out to be, in actuality, just a poster.
Atop that, drummer Patrick Carney had a relatively calm split of his own a few years back. Luckily for narrative-pushing journalists (hey-o!), this whole album is a venting session for the ex-hubby. Because of that, Turn Blue trades their former party blues sound for a psychedelic feel more fit for black-lit rooms, and at its finest moments, channeling the unpleasant subject matter into a versatile emotional statement, instead of entertainment. Respect.
Dual divorces seem to bring out a bit of Pink Floyd in you, apparently. Opening with the signature Dark Side of the Moon chord progression, this chill, jam-heavy track has Auerbach both mocking his former lover’s (supposedly) self-induced plight as well as dispensing advice for her: [LISTEN]
Following in the post-marital scold-advice theme from the previous track, Auerbach possibly references his ex-wife’s mental instability – again blaming it on her hedonistic ways. In that singer-songwriter way, it’s vague enough to apply to anything, but with that in mind: shots fired: [LISTEN]
The “Spooky” stoner vibes signal the end of the night as well as possibly a relationship with a falsetto hook at home in a Justin Timberlake track. This album seems to show them branching out from blues, and the smoothness is much more effective here than the clunk wave of “Fever:” [LISTEN]
You’ve made it into rock royalty when kitsch organ plus plodding, generic, four-chord pseudo-disco beat is lauded as “hypnotic” or “slinky” – journos “wouldn’t leave you if they could.” TBK deserve props both for trying something new and for this groovy outro, but this is no “Lonely Boy:” [LISTEN]
This album’s starting to shape itself as darker, more subdued, and certainly less fit for an awkward middle-aged dude to dance out ever so charmingly in videos. Auerbach’s advice to himself in these trying times – “just leave it alone.” Not as accessible as earlier stuff, but props for branching out: [LISTEN]
Those Pink Floyd chords are back, and so are those references to his ex’s suicide attempts (“bullet in the brain”). It’s unclear if he changes the narrative point-of-view mid-song, but through his lyrics, at least someone “share[s] the blame for what’s in store:” [LISTEN]
Regardless of where the responsibility lies for the failed marriage, the dust has settled. Your actions from here on out are all your own, according to this still-mocking track. The well-worn Bo Diddley beat is all that’s really going on here, though, so the Keys could up their sonic game a bit: [LISTEN]
Falsetto vocals abound again amid guitars and melodies that feel like a “Summer Breeze” as Auerbach says “goodbye.” He insists that his “love” for the addressee “is real,” despite the situation. Since ex-wife Gonis doesn’t have a recording contract or fanbase, we’ll have to take his word for it: [LISTEN]
“10 Lovers” is the first album track that isn’t unequivocally focused on Auerbach’s harsh split, although it takes a similar melancholic “out-of-love” approach. Also, the disco-funk vibe brought by Danger Mouse’s production (also seen on several other tracks) feels more Broken Bells than Black Keys: [LISTEN]
Back to his divorce, Auerbach reflects on both the good times (their “prime”) and the infamous fire. Sudden tempo shifts, extended guitar solo jams not built for radio, and an album-wide focus on unpleasant subject matter show a band making a statement instead of entertaining – respect: [LISTEN]
Rounding out the album is a track that possibly relates to the rest, but sounds like a fairly blase jangle through upbeat rock just to contrast the tone set before it, and possibly placate fans who wanted something danceable. Instead, it feels anticlimactic: [LISTEN]