- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

Raconteurs

Broken Boy Soldiers

V2 Records

Dubbing the Raconteurs a “supergroup” probably was some record-label inside joke that took on a life of its own, having less to do with the mega-wattage of frontman Jack White than with the throwback nature of the songs, with layers of power pop, psychedelia and sly allusions to bloated monster rock. The album is pleasing in a familiar way, although it is likely that casual radio listeners will find themselves tapping along, trying to figure out if they’re listening to Jefferson Airplane, Bachman-Turner Overdrive or Styx.

Mr. White appears to be the driving force here, with the compositions reflecting the playful eclecticism of his White Stripes songs. Mr. White shares songwriting credit and vocal and guitar duties with singer-songwriter Brendan Benson. Drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence, of the Cincinnati group the Greenhornes, round out the lineup.

There is a kind of smirk to the Raconteurs’ sound. Even as they draw on the driving guitar rock of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, there is a detectable wryness to the playing. “Hands,” for instance, opens with feedback and leaden tom-tom hits and a hard bluesy riff strummed on one guitar while Allman-esque fills gather in the space between the chords. It’s not hard to imagine the wags among the hipster crowd holding aloft a flaming lighter in mock tribute.

Still, lurking in the Raconteurs’ winking homage is a heartfelt flavor that would necessarily be missing from a throwaway album of favorite hard-rock covers. “Broken Boy” feels more like the greatest-hits album of a long-established band than a one-off from a quartet of musical buddies, which is something of a compliment.

The smooth, mellow-organ tones of “Together” blend with soaring backing vocals to hit pop heights that will eerily recall Elton John’s corny but powerful “Rocket Man.” Lyrically, the song charts the same path of arch camp shaking off its knowingness, and achieving a plaintive sincerity, captured in the following lyric: “You wrote our names down on the sidewalk/But the rain came and washed them off/So we should write them again on wet cement/So people a long time from now will know what we meant.”

The Donovan-esque “Yellow Sun” kicks off with an acoustic take on the memorable riff from the Doors’ “Peace Frog.” The tune “Level” similarly blends influences with a gravelly, earthy guitar attack matched by a ghostly, airy organ line that feels well-trod but manages to stake out its own turf.

Though there is a tendency among the musical press to hype Jack White as a rock savior, there also is a countervailing impulse to overrate the extent to which he is overrated.

“Broken Boy Soldiers” isn’t genre-busting or wildly original, by any means. Indeed, its chief flaw as a rock-and-roll record is that it’s hard to imagine anyone, from the baby boom to Gen Y, really objecting to the sound. Its edginess resides in the sidelong wink it offers to the rock nerd, even as its 10 three-minute-long tracks are as radio friendly as you can get.


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