I’m not sure if it can accurately be said that the Raconteurs’ new album, Consolers of the Lonely, represents an unexpected left turn. After all, who’s to say that their 2006 debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, isn’t the aberration instead? Either way, fans looking for a repeat of the brilliant, trippy power pop of BBS would do best to just stick with that album. Consolers – steeped as it is in the blues, hard rock, and even vintage country – is an altogether different experience, so I expect the critics and fans to start taking sides now.
The good news is that despite representing a radical departure in style, Consolers has groove and guts to spare, and it feels like a much more cohesive musical statement than BBS. Throughout, the Raconteurs play with supreme confidence and sounds like a comfortable and well-oiled unit. The album boasts a healthy mix of scorchers and engaging slow- to mid-tempo songs. “Salute Your Solutions”, “Hold Up”, and “Five on the Five” in particular rock harder than anything on the first record, while “You Don’t Understand” is a wonderful counterbalance to the fury of the faster cuts.
The band also seems to be channeling the bluesier side of Led Zeppelin and the Who for much of Consolers. “Top Yourself” would sound at home on Physical Graffiti, while “Old Enough” could be an outtake from the Led Zeppelin III sessions. The band does cross the line from reverent to derivative with “Rich Kid Blues,” which is a sadly ineffective amalgamation of Zep’s “Ten Years Gone” and a lot of the Who’s Quadrophenia album. Too bad it lacks the sheer delicacy or power of either.
Without having read the writing credits for this record, my take is that it certainly seems to be a more Jack White-dominated affair. The blood-boiling openers “Consoler of the Lonely” and “Salute Your Solution” are really just White Stripes songs played by a full band, and along with much of the album seem like a thinly veiled (albeit successful) do-over of the disappointing Icky Thump – witness the mariachi flavor shared by the Stripes’ “Conquest” and this band’s “The Switch and the Spur” for instance. The abundance of horns can’t be a coincidence either.
The album closes with the excellent and chilling “Carolina Drama”, in which White delivers the tale of a troubled man named Billy in his familiar cadence while simultaneously evoking the sound of latter era Bob Dylan. It’s the last in a series of twists and turns that mark a consistent and consistently surprising album.
On a down note, despite a multitude of great riffs, very little of Consolers of the Lonely is as instantly memorable as the Raconteurs’ debut. And weighing in with 14 songs, some of the album feels less than necessary. A little editing (I really could’ve done without “Pull This Blanket Off” in particular) would’ve heightened the overall impact a great deal. Still, it’s a bold record from a band that could’ve easily – and justifiably – opted to repeat the winning formula of their debut.
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