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updated: 5/12/2014 9:13 AM

Black Keys retain their alt-rock crown

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  • "Turn Blue" is the eighth album released by The Black Keys.

      "Turn Blue" is the eighth album released by The Black Keys.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS/NONESUCH

 
By Matthew Kemp, Associated Press

The Black Keys, "Turn Blue" (Nonesuch Records)

It's been four years and several Grammy wins since the Black Keys' breakthrough album, "Brothers," and the kings of alternative-rock show no sign of letting their hard-earned crown slip.

"Turn Blue," their eighth album and follow-up to 2011's platinum-selling "El Camino," is arguably their best yet. Superproducer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton is at the helm once again, adding layers of complex orchestration to singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney's trademark blues-rock backbeat.

The album kicks off with the jaw-dropping "Weight of Love" -- a seven-minute odyssey demonstrating the high confidence coursing through the band's recording studio last summer. Starting with a simple acoustic guitar line, the hushed opening builds into an epic meditation on love and loss, with Auerbach's intertwining guitar solos dissolving in a haze of reverb; the sound of a band operating at the peak of its power.

The stunning calling card is followed by three songs that rank among the best in the Keys' canon, including the menacing title track ("I really don't think you know, there could be hell below," croons Auerbach over an echo-soaked piano) and omnipresent leadoff single, "Fever," which couples a synth riff and bone-crunching bass. Elsewhere, distorted tribal drums and a snaking guitar line mark spacey rocker "It's Up to You Now" out as a future single -- an explosion of Delta blues by way of Saturn.

It's not all smooth sailing. Auerbach's falsetto vocals on lovelorn ballad "Waiting on Words" lack emotional punch, while the funk bass line repeated throughout "10 Lovers" is stymied by a keyboard riff so high-pitched it will set any dog within a mile radius running for cover.

Thankfully, the Keys immediately recover their sure footing, closing the album with two tracks at opposite ends of the band's musical spectrum. Jimi Hendrix's spirit comes through in the psychedelic guitar workout "In Our Prime," while album closer "Gotta Get Away" is an unashamedly pop-y track destined to become a summer anthem.

The Akron, Ohio-based band's evolution from a simple guitar-and-drums duo to a fully formed, Grammy Award-winning stadium rock act is remarkable. Their once limited black-and-white palette now boasts hundreds of contrasting colors -- long may it continue.

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