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Although I'd already had something planned and written for today, I couldn't help myself and had to write about the new album from Jack White, Brendon Benson and company. The new Raconteurs album was released just this past week and I had my copy on pre-order so it showed up right when I was hoping it would. I've been listening to it nearly non-stop since then and I don't anticipate it leaving my play list any time soon... unless it's usurped by some other new music of course.
When I got the album it was a "must listen to immediately" sort of moment due to the anticipation. A big fan of the band I've been waiting for new music for a while, especially because the first one is great, but also just slightly short to my ears. The release was a bit rushed to production, recorded in February 2008 and released at the end of March with no singles released beforehand or anything (at least as far as I know). Designed to get the music into the hands of the fans as quickly as possible, it's a concept that I like, even though it doesn't really effect me because I don't listen to the radio and often go months without hearing new singles to begin with.
Enough about that though, on to the music. There's a reason that this album is in heavy rotation for me... I'm really, really digging it. That might change as time goes on, but I think the songs are strong no matter what and can't see myself suddenly thinking it's not worth listening to.
Instead of just going through song by song, I think I'll start this by saying that some Raconteurs fans are probably NOT going to like this one. I hope everyone likes it, but Consolers of the Lonely (COTL) is a far different album from Broken Boy Soldiers (BBS) and I think that might be off putting to some people. While BBS has a lot of pop flavors and melodies, COTL is far more adventurous with intertwining musical genres, various tempo changes, new and unexpected arrangements (like horns) and different songwriting styles. It's also a far rougher album, although not to the point where perhaps it's obviously noticeable on the first listen, but it's definitely there. Some people are just going to prefer the sound the band originally crafted on their first release. That's fine, but I'm not one of them and I think the best way to describe COTL is to say it's vibrant and alive.
It's a bit of an odd statement really, because I wouldn't necessarily say that BBS is "un-vibrate," "a-vibrant", "de-vibrant", "dis-vibrant" or "lacking in vibrancy". Listening to the albums back to back though, that's sort of how it seems. These new songs seem to be coming from a band that is bursting with creativity and refusing to stand still, instead pushing everything forward with energy, fun, emotion and everything that makes rock and roll so compelling. There's a strong sense of immediacy and passion in every song... something I've come to expect from just about everything that Jack White (or Jack White III if you prefer) has a hand in... but even more so than the first release. These songs just seem to come alive with an energy that I didn't think was missing from BBS until I heard COTL. I think this energy and vibrancy is the most striking thing about the album and one of the reasons I like it.
There's one obvious standout song in my opinion. Although I am really liking all the tracks, "Carolina Drama" has to be one of the most chilling songs I've heard in a very long time. A blues burner wrapped around a story that is hauntingly authentic, the arrangement just puts it over the top and literally sends chills down my spine. It's just an incredible bit of songwriting and a track I immediately had to listen to again when I first heard it... just so emotionally powerful.
The rest of the album is pretty sweet too. The time track is stellar with plenty of rock and roll energy and grit, as are the other hard rockers like "Salute Your Solution" and "Hold Up", both of which hit with the punk rock energy that I think BBS is lacking just slightly. I'm also really digging "Attention" with it's twisting bass line and progressive feel to the chorus, and the massive arena rock feel of "Rich Kid Blues". "You Don't Understand Me", "The Switch and the Spur", "Top Yourself", "Old Enough", "Many Shades of Black", and really every track on the album, have all earned multiple listens as well, with each striking a slightly different chord with me.
The song I was really looking forward to, "Five on the Five", actually seems to be slightly restrained, but that might be because I'm so used to the explosive live version. Overall a great bunch of songs with each one sounding completely unique. There's the appropriate White style guitar screeches and the expected lyrical complexity and wordplay, but also lots of subtle moments that sound simple but end up being quite successful (like the piano work on "You Don't Understand Me"). One thing that really surprised me is how much more Americana is infused into these tracks than on their previous release. There's just a certain feel to them whether it's the folk/bluegrass stomp of "Old Enough" or the swaggering, gritty slide blues of "Top Yourself", that just seems to come right out of America's backwoods. I like hearing that in their music and think it works somewhat surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly) well.
As a complete work, I think it really works well without anything sounding too much out of place. It's a pretty eclectic work though, and so feeling out of place would be tough. There's some great rockers that will sound killer done live... actually I think all the songs will work really well live. Definitely an album that I can listen to straight through without any problems and proof that these guys are excited about their music and taking it new places.
There's something else to note that I noticed. It is how much it sounds like the band has really come together and gelled. BBS can sound very much like a collaboration at times (not necessarily a bad thing) with White tracks and Benson tracks... each with their appropriate vocal parts. Jack White also stands out quite a bit on that album occasionally stealing the spotlight with his unique style. I don't see nearly as much devision on this album. It's not completely gone, but there's a definite difference from BBS to COFL. That's not to say that Jack has pulled it back or anything, (maybe Brendon is more comfortable this time around and therefor getting into things a bit more?) but they sound more like a band and less like a collaboration.
At the same time though there does seem like there's a strong influence from Jack White. It could be because there are a number of moments that recall specific tracks from the last White Stripes album for me, but I wouldn't say enough that anything ever sounds like a rehash or something worse. I might have to take a few listens to some of Brendon Benson's solo works and the stuff from the Greenhornes to see how much of each of those groups I hear in these songs to really get a grasp on things.
As I said when I started this review, I'm thinking there will be a few Raconteurs fans out there who will not like this one. Just like everything though it's really a matter of personal preference. Their first release is certainly more catchy and "pop friendly" (you can debate whether thats a good thing or not), but to me, the adventurous nature of this one and the songwriting make it the richer of the two for me. Comparisons aside though, I think it's great and one of the most compelling I've heard in a while, or at the very least one of the more adventurous (outside of the realm of true progressive rock that is).
As you can see by how much I felt the need to write about it, this is an album that I'm really into right now. Who knows if that will continue as I listen to it more and more, but I don't think I'll waiver too much.
I'm already excited to hear what the next Raconteurs release will sound like, but in the mean time I think Consolers of the Lonely is a great album that will tide me over for a long time... or maybe just make me that much hungrier for more... who knows Either way, check it out, might just become your new favorite album too.