Songs from This Album
Album Reviews: Broken Boy Soldiers by The RaconteursRarely has such a modest little record arrived under such a mountain of hype. With ten punchy tracks weighing in at just over half an hour's worth of music, The Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers seems carefully packaged to downplay the fact one-half of the songwriting duo behind it is Jack White, the man whose incandescent talent has made The White Stripes one of the most fascinating bands to watch over the past decade. The other half of the Raconteurs' songwriting core, Brendan Benson, is no slouch either -- as a solo artist, he's made three acclaimed albums' worth of charming (albeit lightweight) power pop. And if you're a fan of this sort of retro-flavored indie rock, the Raconteurs' rhythm section practically makes this a supergroup -- bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler are moonlighting from an excellent band called The Greenhornes, whom Jack White handpicked to open for him on the White Stripes' last tour.
The common ground between all these talents seems to be a love of '60s-era psychedelic pop-rock, and at its best, Broken Boy Soldiers sounds like a dream-team collaboration between Lennon/McCartney, Eric Burdon and Donovan -- all fuzzy guitar hooks, reverb-laden keyboards, quirky/catchy melodies, and corny studio tricks like backwards tape loops and harmonizing vocals shoved way into the left and right channels for maximum stereophonic impact. In terms of pure retro-rock geek appeal, every minute of every track is wonderful, even if the songs themselves don't always hold up.
The songs that do hold up tend to be the ones that strike the right balance between White's fiery, blues-rock style and Benson's lighter, poppier approach. "Intimate Secretary," for example, is a simple slab of fuzz-pedal riff-rock that stands out thanks to the interplay of White's impassionated delivery of his unintelligibly literate lyrics (who else drops words like "kakistocracy" into a song?) with Benson's more detached vocals and unabashedly goofy lyrics ("I've got a rabbit that likes to hop/I've got a girlfriend who likes to shop"). Most of Broken Boy Soldiers works well thanks to the frisson between these complementary but very different performers -- only when the Raconteurs obviously try to shoehorn White into a Benson song (as on the plodding "Together," with its tacked-on call-and-response vocals from White) or vice versa does the recipe turn out bland results.
Hardcore White Stripes followers might be disappointed by how much this is truly a collaborative project -- only the title song and the weird, bluesy closer, "Blue Veins," give Jack White center stage for an entire track -- but for the rest of us, Broken Boy Soldiers stands alongside Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose as further proof that Jack White can apparently do anything. As for Benson, fans who noticed a dropoff in the quality of his work after he parted ways with his old songwriting partner Jason Falkner will be delighted at how reinvigorated he sounds on tracks like "Hands" and "Yellow Sun." Sharing the room with another -- some might say better -- songwriter seems to do wonders for his creative juices. All in all, deliberately modest though it may be, Broken Boy Soldiers is one of the more entertaining rock records so far this year. -- Andy Hermann
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