There’s something to be said for guerrilla marketing. The Raconteurs, the super-group that’s only a super-group if you’re a hard-nosed indie-rock person to begin with, announced the release of their sophomore album only one week before its street date. I liked that. It’s gutsy and, in an age when record companies worry about pirates and stuff, it’s one way to get ahead of the game – just don’t give anyone time to leak the album. The stunt calls attention to the album, allows word of mouth to get around, and hopefully you’ve got yourself a slow, simmering sales winner.
So, just how is Consolers of the Lonely? It’s good. Quite good. And is easily the better of the two Raconteurs albums so far. But the very things that made the band seem like it could be more than just another Jack White project aren’t emphasized in the way they need to be. The result is a seriously solid rock album with flashes of genre brilliance.
“You Don’t Understand Me,” three songs in, is the first to really take some advantage of the obvious talent for stylistic mining. Moving away from the opening two tracks’ blues-on-steroids archetype, the song uses Beatles style harmonies and some really tremendous and tasteful piano playing to undergird an amped up soul workout. It’s immediately followed by “Old Enough,” a Brendan Benson-sung tune that sounds like a slicker version of what Oakley Hall has been doing so extremely well for their past couple of albums – dabbles of Southern rock and jam-band sensibility squeezed into a pop-length song. “Many Shades of Black” revisits the territory of earlier – injecting some truly wicked guitar and horn work – ultimately ending up with something that sounds like a cover of something straight out of the 60s heyday of pop soul.
These songs, along with a few others ( the back-to-back “Rich Kid Blues”/”These Stones Will Shout” especially), are the album’s highlights, unquestionably. The rest of sounds like a fuller-band version of the type of music Jack White has been channeling with the White Stripes’ last few albums – so, sadly, it’s just not as interesting. They provide a lot of power – those aforementioned opening two tracks are pretty stellar, as is the note-perfect rave-up, “Hold Up” – but with the album coming in at just under an hour, those moments become too frequent. They aren’t broken up enough by the broader tracks and by the time you reach the end, it’s just not holding your attention as well. Ultimately this is an album with a good handful of really remarkable songs and then a lot of quality tracks that just seem like a holding pattern. From a band that includes one of the more exciting retro-musicians of the 2000s and some cohorts who create some amazingly vibrant music on their own as well (Benson’s solo work is ridiculously good), this is more than a bit frustrating. – j. neas