The Raconteurs – Consolers of Lonely
Warner Brothers (3/25/08)
Rock / Blues
Let’s call it, for now and perpetuity: It looks like The Raconteurs are going to replace The White Stripes as Jack White’s primary outlet of creativity. While no serious rumors of a Jack & Meg split are swirling, no one pours this much effort into a mere “side project”. Consolers of the Lonely is an early contender for Album of the Year, and considering the short amount of time it traveled from their synapses to our eardrums, it clearly comes from some other planet. This record shows that Jack’s retro fixation isn’t a gimmick or post-ironic drag; he’s making music that is informed by all the best from the ’60s and ’70s and could still stand alone next to all its influences.
Having a group of fellow retro geeks in Brendan Benson, Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence (the last two of the Greenhornes) gives Jack’s brilliant musical autism a focus, and the backing of a full band shows how well White’s mind functions when someone else is throwing ideas at him. It feels like treason for a die-hard White Stripes fan like myself to say so, but Jack White may have found his true calling with The Raconteurs.
The bitterness and tension that permeated the last White Stripes record, Icky Thump, shows up again on the first few tracks of Consolers of the Lonely. The title track kicks things off with a laundry list of complaints, culminating with the chorus of “I’m bored to tears”. The time signature sputters and lurches at different speeds all through this song, but it’s never jarring. The breakdown at the end features some insane bass and guitar dueling that shows the Racs are all about chops, and they sound like the aural equivalent of a speed binge. “Consolers of the Lonely” launches headfirst into the first single, “Salute Your Solution”, and the pace never cools off from there. No question at all that this song was birthed from Dee-troit natives, because it’s pure Moblow garage trash that grabs hold quick and don’t say please (see requisite pissy bitterness in the lyrics: “I got what I got just to spite you”).
You see a lot less of Brendan Benson on this record than you did on their previous album, Broken Boy Soldiers, but “You Don’t Understand Me” is a piano ballad to rival Elton John and has the pissy lover’s kiss-off that is a Jack White trademark. In fact, compared to the so-earnest-you-could-just-puke tone of most modern rock or emo lyrics and the “I’m so deep, exalt, minions” pose that so many of their open-shirted ’70s forefathers put on, The Raconteurs and The White Stripes have the market cornered on bitterness without being self-effacing. Kid Guyliner and Grandpa Dig-My-Sternum only wish they could be that honest without embarrassing themselves.
Consolers of the Lonely gets extra points for using a broader range of instrumentation, including piano and mariachi-style trumpets, to flesh out its otherwise balls-out rock groove without sounding like bloat. “Many Shades of Black”, another Benson led number, uses the trumpets as a herald’s choir or a bright highlight throughout the strong melody, without falling into the gimmick trap. More gimmicky but still effective is “The Switch and the Spur”, which picks up where Icky Thump‘s “Conquest” left off. It’s a really bad habit of too many rock acts to use a piano as an artificial softener for their music, only deploying it when they want to soften the blow of a tune. “The Switch and the Spur” uses the ivories for what they are—a grand, sonorous kick in the cochlea that says “pay attention, you’re about to get epicized.” Then mariachi-styled trumpets give it a triumphant vibe. Lyrically, the song is a bit of a put-on, what with a Western tall-tale theme that breaks down into a royal-decree harmony between White and Benson that HAD to be inspired by Tenacious D (“As sure as the sun doth burn!” to steal a phrase from the song).
White’s move from the Motor City to Tennessee informs two of the album’s standout tracks. “Old Enough” is an Allmans-worthy summer festival jam with all the pomp and grandiose of a ’70s showstopper. Bluegrass fiddles and a Skynyrdish organ highlight the power riffage and the track is a down in the mud footwashin’ holler stomp, churren. I’d love to see the Southern-rock vibe further fleshed out on the next Racs release, because they are in very comfortable territory. “Top Yourself” has a slower-paced blues jangle, with a banjo effect kicking in the background. That’s actually the downfall of this track, as the fuzzy power guitar riffage overshadows the quieter but much cooler-sounding twang. A stripped-down live version of this track should remedy that problem; get on it, Raconteurs.
The epic album closer, “Carolina Drama”, is a Southern-gothic ghost story that lets the production take its curtain call. Most memorable about this turgid dirge is the ethereal female harmonies in the middle; they are ghostly, beautiful, and downright bone-chilling. Paired with the mournful fiddle that accents parts of this slice of Americana, “Carolina Drama” sounds like Confederate spirits rising in the haze after a late-night campfire in the backwoods, and it’s as atmospheric as it is foreboding.
Lest we forget though, these boys is from Moblow, Dee-troit Rock City, boyo, and they knows how to rawk like it. “Hold Up” rawks like some long lost demo tape of the Nuge jamming with the MC5, or Peter Frampton without his talkbox vamping over The Stooges. “Attention” is for the ambitious stoner, with guitars sounding like Donald Duck having an epileptic fit. “These Stones Will Shout” then conjures up the spirit of overblown ’70s rock that sold out Cobo Hall back in the day, namely Zep. It starts out with a blatant tribute to Page & Plant’s lower-key Ireland-by-way-of-Middle-Earth harmonies, and then the grandiosity kicks in as the most powerful melody on Consolers of the Lonely is fleshed out into a arena-worthy sing-along. The pace is slowed with the Wings-ish and utterly skippable “Pull This Blanket Off”, which could have been left off due to the much more adept slowdown of the Terry Reid cover “Rich Kid Blues.” This song sounds like it’s being addressed to the entirety of The Raconteurs’ and Jack White’s faithful throng, all assembled at once. It has the naked display of emotion that 70s rock (Look-At-My-Chest-Hair style) was built on: the near religious earnestness that an artist can only share with a crowd of thousands.
It’s been a few days since Consolers of the Lonely was rush released, and I cannot stop listening. It boggles the effing mind that this record was thrown together in only a few weeks because it sounds like the painstaking effort of a modern day savant. Jack White and his various projects often get written off as ironic, tongue-in-cheek put-ons; some consider him unoriginal and too apt to bite the style of his musical forefathers. This album proves that he and three of his true soulmates in Benson, Lawrence and Keeler are not mere imitators, because they’ve taken the esoterics of all that was great and all that was overblown about ’70s rock and formed it into a genuine piece of art that will stand up as some of the best in our generation. 2007 was a year of tension for Jack White, which showed through in the lyrics to Icky Thump. Consolers of the Lonely is the sound of that hotwire of tension breaking, and The Raconteurs taking the stage to dance under its raining sparks.
Tags: Jack White, The White Stripes