Broken Boy Soldiers – The Raconteurs

Broken Boy Soldiers

The Raconteurs

2006

Third Man Records

 

 Ah, Jack White, how restless you are.  Here, we have a guy who’s extremely successful with his original band The White Stripes, and between albums he starts a completely new band, The Raconteurs.  Personally, I prefer the indie-pop of Brendan Benson’s solo output to that of The White Stripes (or The Greenhornes for that matter).  nonetheless, this album feels completely like a band.  They know that they’re side-band comprised of already acknowledged musician’s, but it sounds like they don’t give a damn. 

They know what they are, they know who they’re influenced by, and they know what they can do.  This self-aware nature of The Raconteurs lends itself to developing an album of awesome songs, if not wholly original.

In keeping with The White Stripe’s tradition of putting the single as the leading song the disc, “Steady, as She Goes” kicks off Broken Boy Soldiers.  A snare drums cracks already gaining the audience’s attention.  This is followed by one of the coolest bass lines ever, keeping a solid groove for the band to play into.  Guitar chords break in, and White’s vocals come in with a quick verse.  The chorus speeds in (if you haven’t heard the song, I don’t know where you must’ve been),  and we’re treated to one of the best hooks on the album (So good in fact, that the aforementioned person who never heard the song could easily be singing along by the halfway point).  My favorite touch in the song is the harmonies, always (I repeat, always) making me sing along (“You found yourself a friend that knows you well”).  But this isn’t that straightforward of a rock song.  The last verse breaks into chaos as two vocal lines play catch-up, and a guitar line tries to drown both out.

Benson’s “Hands” comes directly in.  While it’s not as good as “Steady”, Benson knows how to write a good rock song.  The lyrics are certainly better, and even enhanced with White’s harmony (a major talent this group has).  About two minutes in, the song breaks down, completely revamping what you think a rock song should sound like until the chorus kicks in again. 

As I said, The Raconteurs know directly where they have been influenced, and the title track sounds like they’re channeling Led Zeppelin.  The guitar almost sounds Indian in nature, and the band enters with Zep-inspired hard rock.  Patrick Keeler on drums, in fact, has a very Bonham-inspired beat.  But the song is brilliant, the fact that they don’t try to hide from their inspirations makes it that much better.

“Intimate Secretary” follows this pattern (after a lengthy lead-in).  One of the best songs on the album, it would have fit in with the Kinks’ mid-60’s albums.  In fact, the song sounds more like the Apples in Stereo than the White Stripes.  The acid rock lyrics (“I’ve got a rabbit, it likes to hop, I’ve got a girl and she likes to shop”) sound vaguely familiar, although resoundingly original at the same time.  The screeching vocals for the bridge (or is it the chorus?)  stop the song for a metaphorical breath, before diving back in to the madness.

What follows is a Benson-penned song slowing the mood down.  “Together” suffers from being the most cliched song on the album (“You got to learn to live, and live and learn”? Really?)  However, it’s not a terrible song.  It accomplishes its task of breaking up the mood on the album, and even offers hints at just how talented Benson is at arranging.  During the instrumental breaks, the band fractures the song with a syncopated triplet rhythm, before following along the designated ballad-formula.  Other than that, the song is just a minute or so too long.

“Level” meanwhile brings The Raconteurs back into their weirdness and rock roots.  After a pretty cool intro, they bring back their blues-rock song-crafting, sounding more like The Greenhornes then ever before.  (This should be no surprise as two of the four members are in that band).  However, the song sounds like it was created to focus on the double-harmony guitar solo.  The solo itself is weak, not going anywhere.  But it’s a short song, which can be forgotten or forgiven.

Meanwhile, “Store Bought Bones” brings in a heavy, syncopated rff with the band sounding kick-ass.  The harmony-laden verse tries to sugarcoat the complex arrangement.  The bridge itself turns the song around, being catchy and complicated with its key-changing.  And then just what we were waiting for: an awesome slinky guitar solo.  Beneath the guitar is the head-banging-inducing sounds of the band just bashing out whatever they can, thoroughly enthused.  The song even ends with a trading off of instrument licks!  It may not be breaking any musical ground, but The Raconteurs know what works, and they know how to make it sound insanely cool as they make it their own.

“Yellow Sun” (after a false-start) shows Benson and White bringing the mood down again, with a largely acoustic number.  However, whatever “Together” failed in, “Yellow Sun” completely makes up for.  It is in essence just a fun indie-pop song that they are so good at writing.

“Call it a Day” again brings forward an acid-rock contemplation, complete with the harmonic background vocals.  But the song only feels like a short pit-stop before the finale.

“Blue Veins” is complete Zeppelin blues-based swamp rock.  The intro even features backward drums and guitar.  Again the vocals sound like Robert Plant on early Zeppelin blues songs.  The song makes no queries about what it’s supposed to be.  But the Raconteurs aren’t just going to do half-ass it.  After an interrupting piano sound, they turn sounds (including vocals) backwards, breaking the song down.  And in their certain fashion, bring it back in perfectly.  It’s a strange choice to end the album with, but works nonetheless.

And after the album is done, you can easily see why Jack White chose to go off on this project.  The musicians are some of the most talented players out there, and having four people in the band (instead of just him and the, I’m sorry, less capable Meg White – I do like her! I really do!) brings in freedom that is missing from Jack White’s other band.  The Raconteurs are just what they need to be, an extremely artistic, extremely adept group that writes songs like their influences.  It’s the band everyone wishes they could be in – one that does cover material but makes it their own.  However, in this case, it’s their own material.  The entire album may not be all mind-blowing, but it is very impressive.

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