Just face it. You are not as cool as Jack White.
If rock ’n’ roll were an Olympic event, White would be Michael Phelps, amassing piles of gold medals with swaggering nonchalance. Married to a British supermodel, composer of the forthcoming James Bond theme and still forming half of the acclaimed garage-rock duo The White Stripes, White is most often found onstage, sporting mind-bendingly tight leather pants and wailing out rich blues licks with his custom-made Gretsch guitars. What do you do with your time?
Since there’s no hope for the rest of us, the least we can do is indulge our ears in White’s creative emanations and pray for hipster osmosis. And there’s no better time to indoctrinate yourself than now: White and his current band, The Raconteurs, have been swooping along a touring whirlwind this summer, playing venues ranging from Manhattan’s tiny Terminal Five club to music festival Frankensteins like Bonnaroo and Glastonbury. The performance blitz is in support of their latest album, Consolers of the Lonely.
Less a side project and more of a super-group, The Raconteurs comprise White, solo artist Brendan Benson, and Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence, both of indie outfit The Greenhornes. The band’s 2006 debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, a short retro-rock venture, garnered mostly yawns and shrugs from critics, but Consolers, their sophomore effort released in March, has been serenaded with praise, and rightly so: The new album vividly showcases the group’s powerful songwriting and burning penchant for blues-tinged rock. “Salute Your Solution,” Consolers’ first single, barrages through three minutes of play with frenetic screaming and a tight, crunching guitar riff. The title track is just as intoxicating, a time-measure-defying rocker where Benson and White trade world-weary lead vocals.
But music always sounds best live and thundering through the summer air, and it’s in fact in concert where The Raconteurs dazzle, transforming even their sleepiest songs into boisterous, guitar-crackling anthems. For example, the album version of Soldiers’ “Blue Veins,” terse and unremarkable, gets a wailing, Page and Plant-style makeover in the set list. “Top Yourself,” a twangy stomper whose tinkling bluegrass riffs belie its dark, revenge-soaked lyrics, becomes even more rollicking and juicy onstage. White’s characteristic howl is at its finest bellowing out before a crowd; Benson also shines on lead vocals and guitar, and Keeler and Lawrence provide a rich and varied rhythmic palette.
Planted squarely and a bit post-ironically in some decade past, The Raconteurs evoke the peripatetic allure of old-time traveling country bands. White’s loud, boozy blues riffs have often been likened to Led Zeppelin, and similarly, there’s no shortage of retro throwbacks in the band’s latest album, the plaintive cover of Terry Reid’s “Rich Kid Blues”; the mariachi horns weaving through “Many Shades of Black”; and the serpentine, Dylan-esque murder saga of “Carolina Drama.” These songs certainly don’t break new ground, but perhaps a nod to aural nostalgia was the band’s intention.
On a deeper level, what do The Raconteurs stand for? Tepid relationship drama? The headaches of postmodern ennui? Suspenders and fedoras? Maybe this je ne sais quoi is a carry-over from the Stripes’ weird blend of primary colors and inscrutability. Strutting confidently through their two albums, White and The Raconteurs say a lot about love, loss and tribulation, but it never adds up to something you can quite put your finger on.
“You don’t understand me,” cries White in the track by the same name on Consolers, “but if the feeling was right, you might comprehend me.” Nebulous feelings, indeed, but in this late summer’s musical wasteland of preteen sugarcoated pop and slickly marketed rap songs, The Raconteurs provide solid music for the grown-up, retro-gazing Guitar Heroes among the rest of us.
The Raconteurs: “Level”