A surge of sheer excitement and anticipation rushed over me after reading some months back that two of my favorite musicians – Jack White and Brendan Benson – were to unite their impeccable talents to form The Raconteurs.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a raconteur is a person who excels in telling anecdotes. And these Detroit native singer/songwriters definitely have a way with words – and music. The White Stripes frontman, with Meg White in tow, has paved the way in recent years for pure, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll with an occasional country twist. And Brendan Benson’s British Invasion-esque, catchy-as-hell lyrics and melodies will stick to your brain like Teflon – and I mean that in the most refreshing way possible.
In addition, Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence of The Greenhornes round out the impressive quartet, adding their garage band mystique to the White/Benson songwriting mix. Needless to say, an iconic album is bound to come out of this explosive combination, right?
However, within minutes, I froze in a state of panic. Flashbacks of musical “supergroups” that made me cringe (remember the tragic mess known as Velvet Revolver?) engulfed my brain. That’s the thing about music collaborations – sometimes it can be stellar and other times it’s a complete train-wreck.
Take Jenny Lewis, Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard’s “Handle Me With Care” cover by The Traveling Willburys (coincidently a “supergroup” consisting of Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and George Harrison): good – insanely good, as a matter of fact.
But then there are unfortunate pairings like David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s mind-numbingly cheesy “Dancing in the Street” duet: a career low for two rock legends.
After finally grasping the coveted “Broken Boy Soldiers” album I had so long been waiting for, I was relieved to be pleasantly entertained by the Raconteurs’ debut disk.
The album – which barely surpasses the 30-minute mark – begins with the foot-tapping, head-bobbing track “Steady As She Goes,” which was released as the band’s first single. It’s no surprise – White’s trademark voice intertwined with Benson’s backing vocals and matched with an enthralling bass line – slightly reminiscent of The White Stripes’ mega hit “Seven Nation Army” – is infectious from the get-go. And that’s only the tip of the Raconteur iceberg.
Just when I began to wonder if White would overshadow Benson, “Hands” kicks into high gear with Benson’s trademark harmonious hooks – think the Beatles’ tune “If I Needed Someone,” penned by Harrison – backed by Keeler and Lawrence’s raw instrumentals.
At times, White does steal the limelight from Benson, and vice versa. The gritty “Store Bought Bones” and the bluesy, soulful “Blue Vein” definitely showcase a more White Stripes-friendly feel, while the trippy “Intimate Secretary” and the upbeat acoustic “Yellow Sun” scream Benson.
But what saves this album – and the band – from delving into a dissonant mess of clashing egos is that each member is using The Raconteurs as a friendly music-making outlet.
Though “Broken Boy Soldiers” took roughly a year to create, it is not an overproduced album chockfull of over-the-top, lengthy guitar solos or computerized beats. Rather, White, Benson, Keeler and Lawrence recorded the album at their leisure or when they could find a spare minute from their other notable gigs.
As a result, the album refreshingly exudes four friends – who happen to all be incredibly gifted – just making pure pop music, producing short concise songs with simple lyrics, guitar, drums and the occasional synthesizer here and there.
“Broken Boy Soldiers” will probably never be dubbed the greatest album of all time, but it surely should be recognized as a polished, valiant effort from a collaborative “supergroup” that could actually put their individual successes behind them in order to produce a gem of an album.
Tracy Spicer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.