Album reviews: Black Keys, Foxes, Michael Jackson, Santana

 

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The Independent Culture

The Black Keys Turn Blue (Nonesuch)

Why we always in the wrong direction?”, asks “Year in Review” on the Black Keys’ eighth album. The question might be aimed at just-divorced singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach’s ex-spouse, but you could ask it of the Ohio blues-rock duo themselves, whose answer could be: because the “wrong direction” is where the Black Keys thrive.

Here, their broiling melting pot of blues, soul and psychedelia side-swerves all the current trends and deviates sharply from the track of their huge seventh album, El Camino, whose glam-slam swagger would surely have furnished more mega-sales if revisited. As it is, lead single “Fever” is one of the few overt hits, albeit a thrilling one, its keyboard line a thing of primal, pulse-pumping ingenuity.

Elsewhere, Turn Blue more closely recalls the slow-smouldering soul of 2008’s Attack & Release, the Keys’ first album with producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, back here with vintage keyboards in tow. The title track’s silky purr and the blues-simmering “Waiting on Words” set the dominant tone, though the Keys are too canny to get locked in a rut, preferring to keep their roots-rock revivalism fresh by frequent gear-shifts.

The steamy psych-soul opener, “Weight of Love”, startles right off the bat: it could be the longest, slowest song the Keys have cut. Conversely, the brilliantly dumb, Creedence-y “Gotta Get Away” numbers among their fastest and catchiest, tearing down a fresh highway at the album’s close. Whether or not the Keys follow its lead next time, Turn Blue’s stealth seduction suggests this much: their wrong-footing instincts should keep them on the right track.

****

Kevin Harley

Foxes Glorious (Sign of the Times)

After “featuring” on hit tracks by Zedd and Rudimental, Louisa Rose Allen’s solo album arrives. Glorious sits firmly in the big-vocal dance-pop category, an arena already overfilled with the likes of Miley, Rihanna, Ellie, Florence … It has the statutory blend of ballads and bangers, though it fails to make me either blub or buzz.

Admittedly, the girl’s got serious pipes and her voice sounds less Auto-Tuned than most – even if it’s transatlantically devoid of any hint of British idiom. Unremarkable lyrics are delivered with a sultry croon, a hands-in-the-air belt, or a sweet whisper. There are fun dance tracks, but few real earworms. It adds up to a shallowly appealing, summery package; glossily produced and personality free.

***

Holly Williams

Michael Jackson Xscape (Sony)

The last time they dug up unreleased MJ material – for 2010’s Michael – the resulting album was a mish-mash at best, and a rushed cash-in at worst. This time, LA Reid has taken only completed songs from the archive and then called in a dream team of producers to “contemporise” the backing.

And while not perfect, Xscape is more like it. The songs – mainly ones that missed the cut or didn’t make the grade from 1983 on – are given a funky makeover and Xscape feels coherent and contains enough reminders of the man’s undoubted genius.

There’s nothing here to quite match his finest moments, but nothing stinks (though “Do You Know Where Your Children Are”, stop tittering, does a little) and that, I suppose, is the best you can expect.

****

Simmy Richman

Santana Corazon (Sony)

“The first ever Latin music album of Santana’s career,” it says here. Really? Very well; have it your way. What Corazon certainly contains is a brightly recorded, punchy collection of “Latin” beats and melodies, plus some rock, featuring a handful of distinguished guests and the familiar overflying drone of Carlos’s own guitar obbligati.

Gloria Estefan does her thing, as do Ziggy Marley (on his dad’s “Iron Lion Zion” – sounds like reggae to me), Samuel Rose, Romeo Santos, Miguel, Wayne Shorter, and one Pitbull – who raps up a storm on a Latin-hip-hop-rock update of “Oye Como Va”. It’s a rare old festival of joy and righteous living in the feel-good international Latin club style, and is so well executed it is certain to be a hit in its target territories.

***

Nick Coleman

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