Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Consolers of the Lonely - The Raconteurs

Consolers of the Lonely

The Raconteurs
Third Man Records.

SCQ Rating: 65%

Warning: if this review seems overly concerned with Jack White, it’s because this may as well be his solo project. Sure, Benson and the crew are still in tow but everything else that made Broken Boy Soldiers such a welcome distraction has disappeared up White’s sleeve; its clean, modern production and songwriting pitted the Raconteurs against the stagnant radio rock scene, while suggesting a clear aesthetic path away from the analog blues of the White Stripes. With Consolers of the Lonely, we instead find all the White Stripes trademarks sans Meg White herself: produced by Jack White III for his label, Third Man Records, and to boot, Consolers… boasts the same schizophrenic approach to songwriting. Both the enthralling 2005 effort Get Behind Me Satan and to a lesser degree, last year’s Icky Thump, featured song-cycles loaded with unpredictable left-turns; marimba-chiming prog-rock, traditional bluegrass, piano ballads, Zeppelin-scorchers and bagpipe-epics all rolled into one impossible whole. Get Behind Me Satan still gives me shivers because it found White purposefully working on the outskirts of his comfort zone, testing himself with rewarding results. Icky Thump, on the other hand, incorporated those rewards into his devious classic-rock tendencies, making one of his most well-rounded statements to date. While Consolers… contains a similarly eclectic mix and pulls it off, that feat is at the sacrifice of any identity the Raconteurs may’ve had without White’s dictatorship in effect. These resulting fourteen tracks, without any interweaving themes or logical sequencing, compete for attention instead of complimenting each other.

Still, Benson and the other Raconteurs give us moments to savour, chiming in on the troubled romance of ‘You Don’t Understand Me’, the Americana-infused ‘Old Enough’ and, best of all, Benson’s horn-heavy ‘Several Shades of Black’. Those tracks being Raconteur-highlights, so to speak, don’t mean the rest of Consolers… is a one-man show. To look at this band from a different angle, Benson, Keeler and Lawrence are an ideal unit to fill out White’s rock-ability, which they flesh out on ‘These Stones Will Shout’, a track that they instill with a progressive rock pulse.

So even if The Raconteurs are no longer in league with contemporary rock, instead opting for classic-rock aping, what’s the damage? Surprisingly little, beyond what initially drew us to the idea of White sharing a band with three other guys in the first place. Large and in charge, White makes good on his blues-rock addiction with ‘Top Yourself’, the Led Zeppelin guitar-rock of ‘Rich Kid Blues’, his Dylan-esque storytelling on ‘Carolina Drama’ and his, um, White Stripes dynamics with ‘Salute Your Solution’. Playing in the shadow of such great rock pioneers is hardly shameful – Jack White has proven over the course of several albums that there’s plenty of room to make the old new again – but when the Raconteurs become suggestive of the White Stripes, I think finding a new producer is top priority.

What has always thwarted me when reviewing Jack White records is how singular yet constrained their impact is. Although the man throws a ton of lyrical twists and musical surprises into the mix, Consolers of the Lonely joins the majority of White efforts that are ideal for social gatherings and Friday afternoon celebrations, but unlikely to be heard during the greater scope of human emoting or stereo-time. If I was somehow able to spend my life sipping Coronas on a cottage deck while playing air-guitar, Consolers of the Lonely would rank highly on SCQ's Year-End list. However, as reality would have it, this record stands among most of Jack White's productions as a wonderful summer album, ragged and ruthless, that no classic-rock purist should miss. You really can't ask too much of a good time.

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