Consolers Of The Lonely follows TheRaconteurs 2006 debut album BrokenBoy Soldiers, which went Top 10, wasGrammy® nominated for Best RockAlbum, and spun off a #1 Modern Rock hit. Led by singer-songwriter-guitarists Jack White of The White Stripes and Brendan Benson, The Raconteursrelocated to Nashville and moved toWarner Bros. Fascinating, engaging, and rocking, Consolers Of The Lonelyfulfills the promise of the teaming oftwo masters of power pop.
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Anybody who has followed Jack White's online screeds and offstage brawls knows that the White Stripes' mastermind can tend to get a little, well, defensive when he's challenged (and sometimes even when he's not), but this trait hasn't always surfaced on record -- at least not in the way he and his merry band of Raconteurs do on their second album, Consolers of the Lonely. At the very least, this bubbling blend of bizarro blues, rustic progressive rock, fractured pop, and bludgeoning guitars is a finger in the eye to anyone who dared call the band a mere power pop trifle, proof that the Raconteurs are a rock & roll band, but it's not just the sound of the record that's defiant. There's the very nature of the album's release: how it was announced to the world a week before its release when it then appeared in all formats in all retail outfits simultaneously; there's the obstinately olde-fashioned look of the art work, how the group is decked out like minstrels at a turn-of-the century carnival, or at least out of Dylan's Masked and Anonymous. Most of all, there's the overriding sense that the Raconteurs are turning into an outlet for every passing fancy that Jack has but will not allow himself to indulge within the confines of the tightly controlled White Stripes, whether it's melodramatic Western operas like "The Switch and the Spur" (whose concluding bridge states "any poor souls who trespass against us...will be suffer the bite or be stung dead on sight", functioning as a virtual manifesto for the band), or the slick studio trickery that makes this the biggest White-related production yet. And it's hard to shake the feeling that this is the show of Jack White III (as he now insists on billing himself, playing right into his ongoing Third Man fetish), as that despite the even split in songwriting and producing credits between Jack and Brendan Benson, and even how they trade off lead vocals, that only White could have pushed the Raconteurs to get as stubbornly, stiffly weird as they do here. Of course, that impression is not tempered by how Brendan mimics Jack's manic blues babble, particularly on the spitfire "Salute Your Solution" -- White does follow Benson's gentle, rounded phrasing on the elongated melodies, but that's a subtle distinction overpowered by the force of Jack's concepts. And this is indeed "concepts" in plural: how cult hero Terry Reid is used as a touchstone for the band's progressive blues-rock via a blazing cover of "Rich Kid Blues," or how there's an evocation of the old weird America in all the album's rambling centerpieces, or how half of the record fights against pop brevity, while all of it is a deathblow against the idea that the Raconteurs are power pop sissies. Sometimes, the group hits against that notion with a bluesy bluster, especially on the opening pair of tunes which tread a bit too closely toward Jack conventions, sometimes their attempts to stretch out are either ill-defined ("Attention," "You Don't Understand Me") or collapse under their own weight ("Many Shades of Black"), but the moments that do work -- and there are many -- make for the best music the Raconteurs have yet made. The album truly kicks into gear with the tipsy country stomp of "Old Enough" and after that, there's a series of remarkable moments: that absurd Morricone dust-up "The Switch and the Spur"; "Hold Up," which rages like '70s Stones at their sleaziest; the rampaging "Five on the Five"; that splendid Reid cover that finds its heir on the steadily building "These Stones Will Shout," and finally, the closing backwoods ballad on "Carolina Drama." These songs illustrate all the ways that Jack White's stubborn stylization pays off -- they're quite deliberate in their conflation of the traditional and modern, yet they never sound over-thought, they kick and crackle as pure kinetic music. Broken Boy Soldiers lacked tunes like these, tunes with considerable weight, and these songs turn Consolers of the Lonely into a lop-sided, bottom-loaded album that's better and richer than their debut.
Consolers of the Lonely
[Warner Bros. ; 2008]
Never one to back down from confrontation, Jack White showed a little forethought this month and tried something new: He and his fellow Raconteurs rush-released their new album, Consolers of the Lonely, allowing it to hit stores merely a week after its existence was announced. Great for fans, a little tricky for the media (print especially). But despite (or even because of) expediting the process, they've still effectively given the media its hook: Raconteurs flout the system, bend the (one would assume) will of their record company, and hurry their album's release, hacks like us be damned. The cynical might say this is a red flag and a marketing gimmick, comparable to the press being denied advance screening to an upcoming movie, but that's not the case here. It's not a challenging record, nor one with any otherwise presentable narrative around it; it's four accomplished musicians making a decent-to-great record.
For all their similar backgrounds, you'd think Raconteurs debut Broken Boy Soldiers would have come across as a little more fun to create. Their sophomore record seems hammered-out quickly, honing on what you'd expect from the members' pedigrees-- big hooks and bigger guitars, stuffed arrangements, and plenty of instrumental shock and awe. Or rather, it just makes all that sound easy. Even the fussiest arrangements feel natural, like friends screwing around rather than two songwriting talents facing off. This album isn't about the thrill of the new; the White Stripes have bent arenas to fit their particular vision, and the Raconteurs are grinning through their opportunity to fill them. From the first staccato scrape of guitar in the opening title track, White is easy to pick out of the mix, but the track's strolling swagger sounds like an easy compromise. A sudden eighth-note skip of the bass leads the band into a tempo boost that would be bar-rock by-the-books, were it not hiding a moment of cascading vocal harmonies and preceding a neck-constricting guitar solo. Other songs lean on overdone Ribfest-appropriate templates as well, but they all feature distinctive little details-- the Celtic violin of "Old Enough", the warm Memphis-borrowed horns on the tempo-shifting waltz "Many Shades of Black", the tweaked and overdriven licks of "Hold Up" or "Five on the Five".
Many of those touches will sound familiar to White Stripes fans, of course, not to mention indulging White's Zeppelin fandom just one more time on "Top Yourself" (this time with banjos!). More of that teeth-rattling circus organ from Icky Thump hides in the corners of the strutting "Salute Your Solution", while "The Switch and the Spur" mashes spaghetti-western horns and regal cascading piano lines with echoing guitar chords out of a reggae track, all cramped together like a tiny budget Tarantino soundtrack. Maybe the best the Raconteurs can deliver is something like closer "Carolina Drama", a shaggy dog song-story featuring the attempted homicide of a priest and a rogue milkmen in its lyrics-- it's a song that tweaks tradition with a knowing wink, but doesn't disavow the power of continuing it.
Despite leading much of the material, Brendan Benson doesn't contribute any "Brendan Benson songs" here; both he and White simply step forward as the occasion demands. The two vocalists, therefore, blur into one another in their roles as dual frontmen. White grows tremendously as a singer and gets a little of his mania back, while Benson tightens his belt a few notches and manages to sound just as excitable, notably on the tag-team vocal of "Salute Your Solution". Whether it was intended or not, White's personality sometimes overwhelms, and makes Consolers sound like a little sibling to Icky Thump-- a little less unique, certainly, but another loose, comfortable affirmation of what they do well.
-Jason Crock, April 01, 2008