The Raconteurs “Broken Boy Soldiers” (Album Review)
Jack White has taken – with reason – a lot of criticism recently. Not content with four great albums under his belt (including 2001’s ‘White Blood Cells’, which borders on near-classic status along with The Strokes’ debut album), winning a Grammy for the mindfuckingly memorable single ‘Seven Nation Army’, and headlining numerous festivals all over the world (including the prodigious Glastonbury in 2005), he then proceeds to ruin this seemingly upward trajectory with a shit 5th Stripes album (well, except for about three good tracks on ‘Get Behind Me Satan’) and, horror of horrors, does an advert for Coca-Cola. He justifies it by mentioning the red/white colour aesthetic that both the soft drinks brand and his band constantly use as a way to, err, earn both loads of cash as well as disappointed fans that viciously cry “sell-out”.
Although their music has been very enjoyable, the soaring popularity of the White Stripes has become synonymous with zany storytelling/publicity – what’s with the Michael Jackson look-alike contest? Has he met up with Jason from the Von Bondies for a make-up drink? And is Meg his sister, lover or ex-wife? And that’s exactly what a Raconteur is: someone who tells stories or anecdotes with wit and skill. And this debut album has both in full supply. Thankfully free from such zaniness (I blame it on Meg), Jack White’s new pet-project (with buddy Brendan Benson – the alt Ryan Adams – and a rhythm section comprising of Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of The Greenhornes) hits you immediately with its surprising sense of being genuinely fun. This, naturally, eases some of the growing negativity towards White’s shenanigans over the past 2 or so years.
If you’ve not heard the ridiculously off-beat first single ‘Steady, As She Goes’, then take it from me – it’s a cracker in the same vein as all of the previous Stripes’ lead singles: ‘Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground’, the aforementioned ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Blue Orchid’. It doesn’t rely on an instantly hummable riff like these songs but, conversely, is all the better for it: going instead for the choppy guitar minimalism of Whites’ other band. The funny thing is that, although some of the album is very Stripes-esque, it also stands very well on its own, as a slower and more exacting psychedelic-sounding affair. ‘Broken Boy Soldiers’ thrives on its ability to provide catchy hooks and fetching melodies (the “oooh oooh” section 2 and a half minutes into ‘Hands’ for example), and I challenge anyone to not be singing ‘Girl, you got those hands…’ after a few days of listening to this song. In fact, most of the songs on the album are thunderously captivating, and the high standard of ‘Steady…’ never drops to anything less on the highly-enjoyable-meter. The nonsense lyrics of ‘Intimate Secretary’ sounds like the Eels attempting to do a George Harrison ‘Revolver’ composition, as does ‘Yellow Sun’, which will probably drive you mad with its addictive strumming and summery vibe: think of the hauntingly catchy Stripes single ‘My Doorbell’ but without the deliriously retarded lyrics.
The crunching guitar and White-sang duet (with himself) on ‘Level’ sounds like a mini ‘Ball and Biscuit’ and, coupled with the dejected hangover of ‘Call It A Day’, seems to consciously contrast to the general happy-go-lucky poppyness of the album. At a sparse 34 minutes, the album’s key is in its lack of filler. A couple of weeks ago I criticized Gnarls Barkley’s ‘St. Elsewhere’ because it was too short and, thus, seemed to run out of steam or, more tellingly, sounded more like a work-in-progress than a fully-finished album. Whilst roughly the same length, ‘Broken Boy Soldiers’ sounds more complete, more thought-through and, ultimately, all-the-more fun for it. I can’t wait to hear them live, because this album has restored my faith in Jack White completely. (By J. M. Ross.)