The Raconteurs

Consolers of the Lonely

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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.

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