The Raconteurs’ second album opens with the faint sounds of people talking and laughing as if at a party. The guitar kicks in, then the drums, and before you know it the whole band arrives rocking hard on the title track, much like the album appearing everywhere to the masses in all formats without the usual press or fanfare that accompanies releases nowadays. The song changes pace and melody depending on whether Jack White III, as he is credited here, or Brendan Benson is singing the lead. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that the music is so dynamic while the main character of the story is a shut-in drug addict of some sort “bored to tears.” “Salute Your Solution” continues the playfulness, and I love the distorted guitar sound at the bridge that continues throughout the rest of the song.
The band expands their musical palette as the album continues. On “You Don't Understand Me,” a piano leads and the band creates wonderful Beatles-esque harmonies on the chorus. On “Old Enough,” the fiddle gives the song a country-rock flavor but the organ keeps the emphasis on rock.
“The Switch and the Spur” sounds like a spaghetti western when the horns kick in, a perfect backdrop for the tale as Benson sings of “an appaloosa and / a wanted man sprung from jail.” Unfortunately, fate can appear cruel, as one of “those who inhabit this land” poisons the man “with a fatal sting.” After what sounds like a rattle (snake or death, take your pick), an odd toy piano joins the mix, and after the screeching guitar solo, the narrator offers a warning to all, though too late for the traveler, that:
Any poor souls who those that trespass against us/
Whether it be beast or man/
Will suffer the bite or be stung dead on sight/
By those who inhabit this land/
For theirs is the power and this is their kingdom/
As sure as the sun does burn/
So enter this path but heed these four words,/
You shall never return.
“Hold Up” offers up a quick straightforward rock attack. “Top Yourself” finds a banjo and fantastic slide guitar work added to the mix, yet there’s plenty of rock power that makes the song sound like it could easily have been a Led Zeppelin track. The horns return on “Many Shades Of Black” to add some emotion to the anguish of Benson’s vocals as he sings of “a wasted worried year” in a relationship that everyone knew was bad except the two participants.
“Five On The Five” opens with some guitar flourishes sounding straight off Icky Thump, but then plays out with a mainstream rock sound that continues on “Attention.” “Pull This Blanket Off” has an odd edit at the opening. White is backed by piano, then after a Keith Richards-sounding guitar riff, Benson joins in for more ‘70s country rock. It is so loose and short it comes across like a demo. It's a track that should have been worked on more, or cut.
They cover Terry Reid’s “Rich Kid Blues,” which alternates between arrangements that are small and large, bringing to mind bands like Styx and Queen. They continue the pattern slightly on “These Stones Will Shout” that begins as a heartfelt acoustic number, as White warns “grab hold and do not let go” just before a barrage of serious blues-rock comes bursting out of the speakers. The album closes with wonderful talking country-blues “Carolina Drama,” a song that slowly smolders in intensity as the story of murder and intrigue unfolds.
Jack White III, as he is credited here, sounds more like the White everyone is familiar with from his other well-known band. On The Raconteurs debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, it sounded as if there was a conscious effort on his part to restrain himself in order to create a distinct separation between the bands, but here he sounds more like the White we all know. He and Benson make a very good songwriting and lead-singing team. Unsung heroes Jack Lawrence on bass and Patrick Keeler on drums are a fantastic rhythm section that can handle almost any challenge throw at them, allowing the songwriting pair’s musical imaginations to run wild. Consolers Of The Lonely finds The Raconteurs beating the sophomore slump handily.