Consolers of the Lonely
- Buy the CD
Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD
Heh. Good thing critics – at least those worth their salt – don't give a crap about what Jack White or anyone else thinks about them, but instead asks without malice aforethought, "Does the music suck, or rock?" In the case of the Raconteurs, it's definitely "rock."
Two things, at the core, make the band work beautifully: One is, simply, that the minimalist ethos of the White Stripes can get a little hard on the ears after eight or so years, so it's a nice gearshift to add bass, traditional rock keyboards such as Hammond B-3 organ and Fender Rhodes (beyond the White Stripes' customarily stark piano), three-part harmonies, and even a little acoustic country twang to White's mix once in a while.
The other thing is, Jack himself. The force runs strong in him, not in the “Star Wars” sense of the word but in the way of his Motor City heritage. He channels the raw force and charisma of his greatest Michigander musical forebears, many of whom are present and accounted for on this record: The blues of John Lee Hooker, the garage-y protopunk of Question Mark & the Mysterians (check out the junky keyboard in the verses of "Attention"); the passion and force of the MC5 (Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer and Sonic Smith would have ripped down the Grande Ballroom with the drive and fuzz contained within "Salute Your Solution"); the crashy pop wizardry of Grand Funk ("Hold Up" is more Grand Funk than "We're an American Band"); and the weird rock-jester insanity of Iggy Pop ("Five on the Five" coulda been a Stooges cut with its mashing, entropic guitar coupled with a goofy trumpet intro). And don't tell Jack we said this, please, but one can easily imagine Bob Seger belting out the Raconteurs' "Carolina Drama," a Seger-esque ballad about a flawed kid named Billy. All right, maybe Seger wouldn't be singing so graphically about murderous hand-to-hand domestic violence as White does here, but certainly every single sorry character in this one-act play has shown his face in one Seger composition or another.
Jack White represents the best of the 1960s and '70s no-compromise rock of Detroit, and that's why he's a great talent along the lines of Prince or Beck – he takes what he needs from a pile of discrete influences and somehow stitches them together to create something artfully new. Take for instance, "You Don't Understand Me," which sounds like some sandpapery 1969 Led Zeppelin groove grafted on to a sophisticated, reserved Joe Jackson tune. Or "Rich Kid Blues," which is Emerson, Lake and Palmer all the way with its ferocious organ and rumbling guitars giving way to acoustic interludes – yet it somehow sounds fresh and crisp, not stale and annoying as the formula would be in anyone else's hands, including Emerson, Lake and Palmer's.
For this gluttonous consumer of American culture, few days in the year yield such a rush as when the Stripes or Raconteurs come out with a record, and Major League Baseball's opening day. When they both fall on the same day as happened this year, it's like Christmas and a birthday all wrapped up in the same box. Jack's on top of his game here, as always. God forbid the day he mails in a half-baked record and all his pissed-off rock-critic chickens come back to roost. How sad that will be for him, as he's set his own mousetrap – and while he'll probably kvetch and moan and play the victim when that happens, all he'll need to do is take counsel in his own words: As he put it on Icky Thump, "You can't take the effect, and make it the cause!" As for me, I'm fine with his little anti-marketing marketing scheme; all I gotta do is listen to his tunes. Thank goodness part of this job doesn't involve buying Jack White a beer and hanging out with him. That doesn't seem like it'd be much fun.