The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
With Consolers of the Lonely, Jack White continues his apparent mission to release at least one album a year. This time around, with Meg recovering from the 'acute anxiety' that put a kibosh on the White Stripes' tour, he has shacked up in the studio with his fellow Raconteurs to follow up 2006's debut Broken Boy Soldiers. 'Side project!' almost everyone claimed, upon hearing the succinct ten-tracker that announced Raconteurs to the world, despite it containing enough psych-pop smarts to rival its stone-cold classic Steady, As She Goes. This time around, the band have broadened their scope, following White's playful lead on Icky Thump, to silence the naysayers. In a Radiohead-like marketing move, they've also upsurped the critics by only announcing the album's release a few days prior, hence why this review of a May 25 release is with you one whole month later. Apparently, the reasoning was 'to get the album to the fans as soon as possible'; whether or not this is true, by avoiding the weighty expectations instilled by the PR machine, they've certainly blind-sided me.
'Business as usual' may have been your initial reaction to Salute Your Solution, which incorporates a basic Meg-like beat, cleverly-placed guitar breaks and White's vocal tag-team with Brendan Benson to deliver a scuzzy garage-rocker that wouldn't sound out of place on a Stripes record. Paired with opener Consoler of the Lonely, which gets bored of the established tempo every thirty seconds (explaining Benson's repeated vocal 'I'm bored to tears!'), the first single opens the album with a burst of energy. While this energy is retained throughout, disparate influences take us to places entirely unexpected and that we haven't even traversed during a Stripes' back catalogue that is nearing 'prolific' status.
As a result, we are treated to a fiddle-friendly deep South hoedown (Old Enough), a Terry Reid interpretation that tips its hat off to Baba O'Riley-era Who-prog (Rich Kid Blues), and a horseback adventure complete with mariachi horns that steals some of the hype thunder from the Last Shadow Puppets (The Switch and the Spur). Brass is also evident on album highlight Many Shades of Black, where Benson turns soulful crooner on one of the few occasions where his melodic-pop approach is fully utilised. Despite such genre-straddling business, there are still enough brisk rockers to showcase White's devilish guitar skills, the power-pop 'Ooh-ooh!-heavy Five on the Five head and shoulders above the rest.
However, the more experimental moments are what make this a more dynamic record than Broken Boy Soldiers. If you argue with that, then you certainly haven't made it to the last track; Carolina Drama lives up to its name, White weaving a tale of domestic drama which takes in choiral female backing, rolling violin and an interesting use of a milk bottle. It's a bluesy narrative that takes the album off in yet another new direction, highlighting the record's fearlessness. Although it's not as instant as their debut, ironic considering its rush-release, Consolers of the Lonely is an entirely successful second album because it discovers exciting new frontiers while still having fun at the homestead.