Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)

Turn BlueNonesuch 542300-2
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality **
Overall Enjoyment ***


If the pink-and-blue Day-Glo patterns on the Digipak of the Black Keys’ Turn Blue don’t bring back the psychedelic era for you, you probably weren’t there the first time around. But if you know the music of the time, Dan Auerbach’s jagged, fuzz-driven guitar solo in “Weight of Love” should remind you of the Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service. Turn Blue is another step away from the DIY garage-band sound that characterized the Keys’ early discs, and it’s even more polished and musically varied than their last outing, El Camino.

Turn Blue is the Black Keys’ eighth album, and its fourth to be co-produced with Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, who shares the songwriting credits and played on all tracks, alongside Auerbach and Patrick Carney, the official band members. Burton’s contribution is significant. The keyboards and other sounds that run through Turn Blue expand the Keys’ musical palette and enrich the songs.

While there are hints of the psychedelic, Turn Blue effortlessly encompasses many other styles. The fuzz bass and Farfisa-style keyboards in “Fever” give the song a late-’60s AM-radio vibe, and the song has the infectious groove of the best singles of that era. The title track has an undercurrent of ’70s soul, with Auerbach reaching at points for a falsetto that gives the song some of its romantic appeal. “Bullet in the Brain” also taps into the ’70s, but this time it’s heavy rock the band aims for, evoking Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd without merely copying them.

“It’s Up to You Now” and “Gotta Get Away” should reassure longtime fans that the Black Keys can still play uncomplicated rock’n’roll. Auerbach and Carney produced both tracks without Danger Mouse’s help, perhaps to remind themselves they can still keep things basic. Turn Blue is sonically dense, and Danger Mouse is certainly the reason for its complexity.

Despite the fact that Danger Mouse shares the songwriting credits, my impression isn’t that he imposed on the Black Keys a change in direction. It’s more likely that Auerbach and Carny, having developed into such strong players, grew restless. Carney is a drummer of considerable skill, fluid and musical, with a hard punch, and Auerbach has become more technically proficient on guitar without losing the visceral punch that makes his playing so energetic.

Both musicians have such individual styles that they don’t get lost in the production, but they do have to fight through unnecessarily bad sound. Turn Blue is marked by layered vocal harmonies and ambient keyboard effects that fill out the arrangements; had the sound been handled more carefully, the disc would be a richer experience. Auerbach’s bass playing is as melodically arresting as his guitar work, but Tchad Blake’s mix pushes the bass and Carney’s kick drum so far forward that many other details in the recording are overwhelmed.

Brian Lacey’s mastering, at least on this disc, leans toward compression, which makes the sound even murkier. Loud passages are disturbingly grungy. Turn Blue is a great rock’n’roll record for the car or computer, but in hi-fi -- even mid-fi -- its sound becomes more than a little annoying. A record with such good musicianship, and with so many things going on that should reward close listening, deserved better.

. . . Joseph Taylor