Are the Raconteurs "White Stripes version 2.0"? Not quite, but Jack White's new side project bears enough of his distinctive imprint that it's a must for Stripes fans. White has joined fellow Detroit singer-songwriter Brendan Benson and the Greenhornes' Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler for this new band - not replacing the Stripes, but as another avenue for the prolific White and pals to try something new.
White's bluesy yowl and fingerprints are all over the album, and like most of the folks who'll pick this CD up, I admit I'm not really familiar with the work of Benson and the Greenhornes. But together, they make a solid band.
The Raconteurs' debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, is a trippy garage rock disc with a jones for the heavy '70s rock of bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. The first thing that hits you as the album kicks off is the broadness of the sound. It's a big change from the starker, two-person noise of the Stripes, with the welcome deep thump of Lawrence's bass guitar and Keeler's steady assault on the drums.
For the first half of the album, it's an inspiration-drenched blast, with the catchy kick of the lead song, "Steady as She Goes," the Queen-meets-Robert Plant choruses of "Hands," and my pick for best track, the title song, "Broken Boy Soldiers," which has White nearly bursting his vocal chords over a clattering series of hooks and riffs. "Intimate Secretary" is a goofy fuzz-drenched blast, with silly lyrics like "This ringing in my ears won't stop / I've got a red Japanese tea pot." "Together" has the boozy morning-after feel of a '70s AM radio love song, with its optimistic chorus of "You've got to live and live and learn."
White and Benson trade off vocals throughout the disc, although with their somewhat similar voices I had trouble sometimes telling who was singing what. As the album winds down — and it's only a shade over a half-hour — it gradually runs out of steam. Some of the last few songs are unmemorable sketches, and the last, "Blue Veins," is a bluesy rock jam that doesn't quite ramble long enough to build up to a head.
Is Broken Boy Soldiers a thrash-rock gem, or just some very enjoyable homages and bashing around? I'm not quite sure yet. It doesn't really have the primal blues-punk heft that I love about the White Stripes, but it's got a broader soundscape, and the welcome influence of Benson's songwriting, which feels more light-hearted than White's touch. For early summer rocking out while driving down the long highways, "Broken Boy Soldiers" is just the ticket.