When Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys released their debut album The Big Come Up in 2002, they were two fairly unknown, geeky 20-somethings from Akron, Ohio. Oddball musicians with a sense of humor and a love for raw, unfiltered music, they interspersed punky, bluesy, just-the-good-stuff rock ‘n’ roll with tiny skits and sarcastic ‘50s-style intros, juxtaposing “Gee, this is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life” with screeching electric guitar. Kitsch was always a source of humor for The Black Keys, and the quirky candidness of the band was almost polished away in El Camino, with the Grammy-winning single “Lonely Boy.”
The band’s upcoming album is rearing its head in the oddest, most classically Black-Keys way possible: with a bizarre, low-budget, surprisingly graphic hypnotism infomercial tweeted by Mike Tyson. No, there’s no music in it. Yes, it looks like something out of Twin Peaks. The sole mention of the album occurs for only eight seconds at the end of the video, when the screen reads “Special new album Turn Blue by rock musicians The Black Keys.” Most importantly, the announcement includes a date: May 13. The bizarreness of the preview video suggested that maybe The Keys were returning to their Big Come Up roots – that is, before the album’s single, “Fever,” dropped March 24.
The Black Keys have stuck to their sound fairly well for over a decade, developing as musicians and incorporating new elements without losing their footing. But “Fever” is such a departure from what The Keys provides the music industry: solid ground. Even with alt-pop taking over the airwaves, The Black Keys carried a century of music on their backs, making rock ‘n’ roll that we felt in our bones like it was something ancient, passed down.
“Fever” is just another piece of alt-pop noise.
Still, there’s something about that weird little video that hints at something bigger. Maybe The Black Keys are still going to surprise us. Maybe Turn Blue will show a new side of The Keys without losing that oomph, that hearty, snickering rock ‘n’ roll. Part of me imagines Auerbach and Carney posting that single with a knowing smile, holding back laughter, trying desperately to avoid ruining the joke.