May 15, 2006
The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers
How Jack lost his stripes and found a friend
6 / 10
What fool Jack White, man. Does he want any more, or do you think he’s good as he is? Supermodel wife, cute-as-a-button ex-wife (who he gets to see all the time), a baby on the way, more money than Saudi Arabia x God + The House Of Bush. And a simpering group of peers who clearly wish they had even the beginning of an idea how to carry off old-school kewl and bang-up-to-the-minute freshness with the merest sliver of his awesome sangfroid. Oh, and a shitload of well-cut trousers (red) and neat hats (black). If you had all that lot, how happy – on a scale of one to 10 – would you be? Or haven’t they invented that number yet? If you were in The Strokes or, say, Dirty Pretty Things, wouldn’t you just be eating your knuckles wishing you had some of that star power? Well now, maybe it’s time to stop chewing, because The Raconteurs album proves that even this most garlanded of cultural heroes has, if not feet of clay, then certainly slightly damp toes.
Perhaps the clues have always been there. After all, is it not Jack White that went out with Renée Zellweger, literally, the least sexy woman in Hollywood (and yes, I’ve checked and it’s true)? Is it not Jack White that bumbled his way through the really-not-very-good-at-all Cold Mountain? Is it not Jack White who’s recently expanded his already super-impressive coffers by talking money from Coca-Cola Corp to flog yet more of their planet-shrinking product? “You do a commercial, you’re off the artistic roll-call, forever,” Bill Hicks once decreed. “You’re another whore at the capitalist gang-bang and every word that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink.” Now, good old Bill’s been dead a long time, and things change. Attitudes change. Jack White probably has perfectly wonderful reasons for doing that ad, that frankly, have nothing to do with me/us anyway, but a niggling feeling remains, and that feeling is one provoked by seeing someone who has always stood for what sorry, raggedy-arsed excuse we have for a counter culture (the phrase seems ludicrous now I’ve written it down) go to The Other Side. And now, just as we’re getting used to it all, comes this. The side-project. The Raconteurs. A band who’ve already had to become The Saboteurs down under thanks to an obstreperous Aussie jazz band who don’t fancy sharing names. The signs aren’t that good.
Of course, this isn’t really a side-project, and we know that because Jack says so in the interviews he’s asked to do because he’s The Famous One. Bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler’s work in Cincinnati’s finest The Greenhornes has been exemplary (probably). Guitarist Brendan Benson has released a swathe of brilliant solo albums in the last 10 years. OK, nobody bought them, but that doesn’t stop them being good. “The only way to show people you’re a band is to be a band,” Jack Lawrence said recently, before confirming, much to the world’s relief, that, yes, there would be more Greenhornes LPs.
Of course, just being “a band” doesn’t mean you’re not a side-project. For one thing is certain, The Raconteurs really know how to play the sort of mildly psychedelic pop-rock that was popular between 1965 and 1968. They will be the talk of the beer tents at this year’s festivals until the next band that’s quite good comes along. Or a dog runs past with a pair of trousers in its teeth and everyone gets distracted.
So, ‘Steady, As She Goes’ is a nice pop song with nice harmonies and crunchy (White Stripes) guitars. ‘Hands’ sounds like The Who attempting something from The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’ that they can’t quite manage, but it does have really lovely vocal harmonies in the chorus. The title track ‘Broken Boy Soldier’ is so Led Zep it’s a little bit embarrassing, but if you can get past that, your enjoyment of Jack and Brendan’s songwriting should see you to the end. ‘Together’ is a bit of a plodder and should be remembered as your cue to go to the bar/toilet/tent. ‘Yellow Sun’ is a demo whose unfinishedness only points at the glorious Big Star-style (there goes my ’65 to ’68 proposition) acoustic-friendly psyche-pop dream boat it could have been. ‘Intimate Secretary’ is, clearly, the best track on the album – a dense bush of noise speckled with oddball lyrics (don’t worry about the words, they’re largely finely-tooled ultra-pop nonsense) and side-winding harmonic idents. ‘Call It A Day’ is stoned and mournful (pure Benson). ‘Blue Veins’ is a grinding, bluesy howl (pure White). Some of it might sound like The Greenhornes, but we’re not really sure.
The point being this: The Raconteurs are, right now, an entertaining idea and everything, but that’s about it. Fun for them, a guaranteed money-spinner, but when it comes down to it, it ain’t gonna change your world any. Not quite a rich man’s folly, but close. You’ll buy it, put it on your iTunes, and most likely never listen to it again. Meanwhile, Jack will return to Meg and something properly startling will (undoubtedly) occur.
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