After two hit albums in two years and a series of huge arena tours, the Black Keys weren't sure what to do next. "We were this-is-your-brain-on-drugs fried," says frontman Dan Auerbach. After several stalled recording sessions, they finally got their answer at L.A.'s Sunset Sound studios last year, when they cut "Weight of Love" – a seven-minute, organ-steeped breakup song with Auerbach unleashing violent, searing guitar solos. The epic track made the duo abandon the idea of writing singles. "After that, it was like, 'We can do whatever we want – it'll be all right,'" says Auerbach.
The Keys cut Turn Blue in L.A., Michigan and Auerbach's studio in Nashville, alongside co-producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, who first worked with the band on 2008's Attack & Release. Whereas the Keys' last record, 2011's El Camino, was polished and hooky, Turn Blue has a groovedriven psychedelic glaze. "Fever" is a dance-floor throwdown with a Farfisa organ hook, and on the title track, Auerbach uses his falsetto over ambient synths and crisp jazz chords as he repeats, "I really don't think you know/There could be hell below." "We were sort of making a headphone record," says Auerbach. Adds drummer Patrick Carney, "It pays off to listen more than once."
The closing track stands out as the most immediately catchy: "Gotta Get Away," a Creedence-style rave-up about traveling across the country to escape a tumultuous relationship. The Keys wrote it in 10 minutes. "It made me a little bit uncomfortable because it was so classic-sounding, but we couldn't deny it," says Auerbach. "At this point, there are absolutely no rules."
This story is from the April 24th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.