Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Peak: Fever in the funk house, Pt. 7 - Broken Boy Soldiers

Or: How I fill up 2 GB

(Being the continuing alphabetical series of the contents of my iPod)

Album: Broken Boy Soldiers
Artist: The Raconteurs
Released: 2006

Track listing:
1. Steady, As She Goes
2. Hands
3. Broken Boy Soldier
4. Intimate Secretary
5. Together
6. Level
7. Store Bought Bones
8. Yellow Sun
9. Call It a Day
10. Blue Veins review:
It's hard to call the Raconteurs a genuine supergroup since there's only one true rock star in the quartet: the White Stripes' eccentric mastermind Jack White. Sometime between the recording of the Stripes' 2003 breakthrough Elephant and its willfully difficult 2005 follow-up, Get Behind Me Satan, White teamed up with fellow Detroit singer/songwriter Brendan Benson to write some tunes, eventually drafting the rhythm section of Cincinnati garage rockers the Greenhornes as support. Lasting just ten tracks, their debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, doesn't feel hasty, but it doesn't exactly feel carefully considered, either. It sounds exactly as what it is: a busman's holiday for two prodigiously gifted pop songwriters where they get to indulge in temptations that their regular gig doesn't afford. For Benson, he gets to rock harder than he does on his meticulously crafted solo albums; for White, he gets to shed the self-imposed restrictions of the White Stripes and delve into the psychedelic art pop he's hinted at on Elephant and Satan. Both Benson and White are indebted to '60s guitar pop, particularly the pop experiments of the mid-'60s — in its deliberately dark blues-rock, Elephant resembled a modern-day variation of the Stones' Aftermath, while Benson has drawn deeply from Rubber Soul and Revolver, not to mention the Kinks or any number of other '60s pop acts — so they make good, even natural, collaborators, with Brendan's classicist tendencies nicely balancing Jack's gleeful freak-outs. Appropriately, Broken Boy Soldiers does sound like the work of a band, with traded lead vocals and layers of harmonies, and no deliberate emphasis on one singer over the other. Even if there's a seemingly conscious effort to give Brendan Benson and Jack White equal space on this brief album, White can't help but overshadow his partner: as good as Benson is, White's a far more dynamic, innovative, and compelling presence — there's a reason why he's a star. But he does willingly embrace the teamwork of a band here, dressing up Benson's songs with weird flourishes, and playing some great guitar along the way. If the Raconteurs don't rock nearly as hard as the White Stripes — there's a reckless freedom in Jack's careening performances when he's supported only by Meg White — they do have some subtle sonic textures that the Stripes lack, and a tougher backbone than Benson's albums, which makes them their own distinctive entity. And they're a band that has their own identity — it may be somewhat stuck in the '60s, but they're not monochromatic, showcasing instead a variety of sounds, ranging from sparely ominous single "Steady, as She Goes" and the propulsive pop of "Hands" to the churning Eastern psychedelia of "Intimate Secretary" and the grandiose menace of the title track to the slow blues burn of "Blue Veins." These songs, and the five other cuts on this album, prove that the Raconteurs are nothing less than a first-rate power pop band — but they're nothing more, either. They may not rewrite the rules of pop on Broken Boy Soldiers, but they don't try to: they simply lie back and deliver ten good, colorful pop songs, so classic in style and concise in form that the album itself is barely over in 30 minutes. It's brief and even a little slight, but it's almost as much fun to listen to as it must have been to make.

So yeah, that’s quite a long review from, and if you’ve read that, there’s probably not much more I can add. But I still like to talk, and I like music, and I really like this album, so I’ll still say a few things.

Yes, Broken Boy Soldiers is pop rock, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In college, I would have scorned a 30-minute record full of three-and-a-half-minute songs; since then, I’ve grown to appreciate fine song-writing, and this album has it in spades. We already knew Jack White could write a tune in the drum-guitar framework of The White Stripes; here we find out that the dude can write one hell of a rock number in the context of a full band. Songs like “Hands,” “Intimate Secretary,” and especially “Level” are brimming with a pure energy that reminds you how much fun rock music can be (which some of us might have forgotten after listening to The White Stripes too much).

And let’s not forget, “Steady, As She Goes” was used as the music for the Pirates 2007 commercial that featured “Steady Freddy” Sanchez (“Steady Freddy” is a nickname coined by “Voice of the Pirates” Greg Brown; I prefer Dirty Sanchez as a nickname, but they didn’t ask me).

I think that’s about all I have to say about Broken Boy Soldiers. I highly recommend spending 30 minutes of your time listening to the album, and then spending another hour watching youtube clips of The Raconteurs performing everything from their own material to the Gnarls Barkley rave-up “Crazy.” The highlight of the album for me is “Level,” and that’s the youtube I included in this post. The video is a live version, but it still rocks pretty good. Do yourself a favor and go find the original. If you’re my friend, e-mail me and I’ll make a copy for you. It’s just that good.


Julie_Gong said...

steady as she goes acoustic is so money. that jack white sure knows what he's doing...

Peaks and Gutters said...

He sure does.

I hadn't heard the acoustic version before, so I went and checked it out on youtube. That's pretty good stuff, with a little swing thrown in. Like I said, those guys seem to be having a lot of fun making music, and that fun comes through the speakers.

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