Despite fears that the Raconteurs would become “the White Stripes with a bassist”, Jack White, along with the rhythm section of Detroit band the Greenthornes and indie-pop star Brendan Benson, create a whole and unique work that screams with potential. In fact, one of Jack White’s fears about the publicity surrounding this band would be that his fame would cause critics to overlook the rest of the band (notice his badly-lit position on the album cover).
Garnering comparisons to David Bowie, the Pixies, and even Led Zeppelin, Broken Boy Soldiers is a short yet cohesive album that best utilizes the immense talent of all four band members, even if White and Benson carry the project with their separate songwriting styles. This album can, in fact, best be summarized as a meeting of two musical geniuses that end up not hating each other at the end (unlike most other bands that seem over-crowded with talent).
This album is the rock music people have been yearning for since being catchy fell out of style amongst indie stars in the 90’s. White’s guitar playing ranges from blues, ballads, to pure rock n’roll. Benson is an amazingly underrated talent, full of unique turns in songs structure and output. The rhythm section falls solid, creating the perfect atmosphere for these two larger-than-life talents.
The Raconteurs — Broken Boy Soldiers: Track-by-track review
1. “Steady, As She Goes”
Inspired by Primus as much as the White Stripes themselves, this opener, also the first single from the album, sets the mood of the album well. While seeming energetic and slightly schizoid, the stuttering riff of the song is memorable and the chorus riff is also noteworthy.
White and Benson duel off during the solo, using both electronic effects and wave pedals. The bass line is infectious, as is the chorus. The lyrics aren’t much, but still weld themselves smoothly into the style of the song:
And you have completed what you thought you had to do
And you’re blood’s depleted to the point of stabled glue
This song is the most striking, considering its use of power chords, something White is not known for using (though Benson is). This, as well as Benson’s vocal, concretes the Raconteurs as more than a Jack White pet project.
The lyrics are charming, probably more so with Benson’s vocals. In fact, the contrast made by Benson’s cool voice and White’s Plant-esque howl create a pleasing effect. The bridge is also unique to the Raconteurs, with its ooh-ooh-ing and the high-hat drumming probably more familiar to Flamin’ Groovies fans.
3. “Broken Boy Soldier”
This is purely Jack White’s work, and anyone familiar with the Stripes’ most recent album, Icky Thump, will hear the similarities.
Just as well; White’s obsession with childhood imagery is blatant (“I’m going back to school today/but I’m dropping myself off”). The pot-and-pan drumming combined with the siren wail of the guitar might be annoying upon first listen, but it definitely grows on one, as a disaster-area atmosphere is created.
The steel guitar riff adds to the sloppy feel of the song, as does the guitar effects that seem to be sending morse code during the end solo.
4. “Intimate Secretary”
Power-pop for a new generation, this is probably the bookmark of the album. Its use of keyboard effects will seem alien to White Stripes fans, but the hook-heavy sensation and constant build-up will capture anybody’s ear as purely excellent.
The lyrics are cheesy, but take a backseat to the musicianship that overwhelms the listener (a good overwhelming, that is). However, you will be left wondering what a “cacastoracy” is (no lyric book comes with the album).
Once again, White and Benson utilize the vast differences of their vocals to create a unique distance between their lyrics.
Just as Jack White took the helm for “Broken Boy Soldiers”, Brendan Benson uses the multiple talents of the band to weave this great and genteel love song.
Harkening back to the ballads of the Small Faces, slow drumming and an airy keyboard riff are excellent background for Benson’s not-too-melancholy lyric work:
I’m adding something new to the mixture
So there’s a different hue to your picture
Different ending to this fairy tale
And the sunset into which we sail
However, the sometimes-disjunctive rhythm keeps this stellar number away from prom schtick or lounge decorum.
Beginning with chipmunk-esque sound effects a la Magical Mystery Tour, this song utilizes dissonance and echoes to create a very weird aura more familiar to the funk-rock of the 1970s.
Once more, Benson and White cross hairs on their vocals, doing a call-and-response that comes off both smooth and interesting. The guitar solo drones somewhat, but is still bold enough to fit in with the song.
7. “Store Bought Bones”
The first half of this song carries the cynical sarcasm that White is known for, but the power riff and chanting gain the better of the band. However, the second part of the song is a collage of short solos (so short they’re probably better known as flourishes) that show off each band member’s outstanding talent. White leads with one of his signature guitar bleeds, followed by spurts of energy from the keyboards, drums, and even the bass.
8. “Yellow Sun”
An all-acoustic folk-rock song, Benson and White tell a story like two old bluesman, as if each lived the same life. In fact, this song represents that the band is really handled by two personalities that, when together, create a cohesive artist. With lyrics that sound more Benson, White does use his signature wail to give this song a punch that may it have lacked were it just Benson.
9. “Call It A Day”
As mellow as “Together,” this song is ripe with Benson’s wordplay and is at once contagious and soothing. The airy drumming and quality bass line give Benson the vehicle he needs to drive this message to a former heartache:
I stumble around
Try to follow the sound
As something takes hold of my hand
It becomes such a mess
And I’d venture to guess that
You concocted this plan
10. “Blue Veins”
Using backtracking to create the bluesy psychedelia more at home amongst the Lovin’ Spoonful, this angered ballad is carried by White’s voice and signature guitar work. A piano coda you’ll swear you’ve heard before, combined with the biting sound of unfulfilled retribution in White’s voice, rings the heartache and melancholy out of this song, as does White’s vocals.
He does his best to impersonate Robert Plant again, but comes closer to Janis Joplin, or perhaps Layne Staley.
Broken Boy Soldiers by The Raconteurs
“Steady, As She Goes”
“Broken Boy Soldier”
“Store Bought Bones”
“Call It A Day”