Every week in Second Listen, Frank Macarthy looks back at lesser-loved albums from well-loved bands’ discographies.
Another day, another Jack White side project. The White Stripes. The Dead Weather. The solo stuff. That album with Danger Mouse. Or that time he pretended to be a woman with Electric Six. Oh, and that 007 song he did with Alicia Keys. Ugh, that 007 song. I’m really starting to lose count here. And I bet Meg is starting to lose her patience.
According to the old folklore, Jack White and Brendan Benson got together one hot and muggy summer morning in Nashville and penned the very beginnings of their first single as The Raconteurs: “Steady as She Goes.” They recruited a few other friends (Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of The Greenhornes) and kinda just started recording and touring without much warning. Hell, I saw the Raconteurs back in 2007 at Lollapalooza and had no idea Jack White was in the band until about halfway through the show. But, that’s Jack. He kind of comes and goes as he pleases. Like music is his revolving door. Like he’s some sort of translucent guitar entity that only appears when his name is repeated three times in a mirror. He doesn’t appear to kill you. No, he shows up to build you a slide guitar out of household materials and then disappear into the night (or another side project; whatever is easiest).
The Raconteurs first album, Broken Boy Soldiers, received praise from every angle. I think everyone was just happy to hear Jack without a broken metronome to back him up (sorry, Meg, I don’t really mean it). Also, Lawrence’s strange ability to play live in a full suit on the hottest days of the year (with that hair) was definitely a sight to behold. The Jack White influence was there, but it just felt a little lackluster. This was the first time we were granted the opportunity to hear Jack wank with a full band to back him up, and it was a little underwhelming. Then, two years later, Consolers of the Lonely arrived and smacked us with the bluesy, ragged, riff-driven Jack we were all waiting for.
It doesn’t take long for Consolers of the Lonely to start rattlin’ and shakin’. The title track that hits the ground screaming as the first song on the album is a foreshadowing of the musical mayhem to follow. The album is less like a rollercoaster and more like the Zipper at carnivals. Remember that ride with the cages that flung you up, over, around, and upside down? Never felt really safe? Yeah, that’s Consolers of the Lonely. Tracks like “Old Enough” give you some time to reorient yourself until you’re whipped back around again by the reckless and rambunctious “Hold Up” and the spaghetti-western inspired “The Switch and the Spur.”
I will admit I do like hearing Benson really show off vocally a bit on this album. I feel like I can only take White’s unique take on singing for so long nowadays. Songs like “Old Enough” and “Pull This Blanket Off” really feed of off Brendan’s country raspiness. Even the harmonies have become tighter. Benson seems to have found a happy medium in between country, rock, and whatever Jack White is.
Two out of the four singles released for the album, “Many Shades of Black” and “Old Enough,” feature some stellar guest appearances by a young and practically unheard of (at the time) Adele, and Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe respectively (the “Old Enough” single also comes with a more subdued bluegrass version of “Top Yourself”). This is the first time a single has released something almost in competition with the actual full-length album. Adele and Jack White duking it out over an orchestral rock opus? I’d pay to see that.
The more I write, the more I realize how disconnected Consolers of the Lonely is from itself. There has to be some sort of uniting punctuation at the end of this album to tie together the rock/bluegrass/alt-country/blues sound (preferably an exclamation point). Oh, wait, there is. “Carolina Drama” is the Sling Blade-esque, Southern tragedy this album needs to really round itself out (wow, never thought I’d say those words before).
Consolers of the Lonely was met with mixed reviews. Some felt that they lost that initial spark of originality and fell victim to clichéd and formulaic generic rock and roll. Some felt that they finally grew a pair of balls and learned how to use their distortion pedals. I prefer the latter. It’s less that they grew a pair and more that their pair dropped and they matured through a collective band puberty. There were a few awkward, pimply-faced moments like “Rich Kid Blues” and “These Stones Will Shout,” but we’ve all had our voices crack in front of the entire class at least once or twice before. Hmm. Sophomore slump. Band puberty. There has to be some kind of connection or joke here that I’m missing.
Regardless, Consolers of the Lonely is anything but a sophomore slump. It is more like a senior fling. The band had their fun, left their mark, and parted ways. Will they get back together? I think you’d have a better chance of actually summoning Jack White with a few candles and a bathroom mirror than finding a concrete answer to that question, even if they’re playing at least one show at this year’s Governor’s Ball. My burning, unanswered question, though, is: What’s Meg up to these days?