The Raconteurs | Broken Boy Soldiers (XL)

For all the talk (and magazine covers) touting the Raconteurs as "Jack White's new band," the album feels much closer to Benson's previous work.



Remember all that frothing-at-the-mouth Pitchfork prerelease buzz you heard last month comparing the debut record from Jack White and Brendan Benson's new supergroup with a certain breakthrough Nirvana record? Well, nevermind. While the Raconteurs is a fabulous idea-these two veteran Detroit scenesters (since relocated to Nashville) have an obvious talent for collaboration-Broken Boy Soldiers can't help sounding like exactly what it is: a stellar yet frustratingly uneven collection of first-draft tunes smashingly recorded by two old friends who just happen to be masters of the Perfect Pop SongTM.

For all the talk (and magazine covers) touting the Raconteurs as "Jack White's new band," the album feels much closer to Benson's previous work. In the Joe Jackson bassline-cribbing skinny-tie first single, "Steady as She Goes," it's easy to mistake White's lead vocal turn for Benson-like many fans, until I came across "Steady"'s dreary performance video, I had no idea that White could quite possibly out-Benson Benson.

Although Benson sticks to what he does best on the bouncing rocker "Hands"-a gem that would have fit nicely on his 2005 release, The Alternative to Love-it's when White joins in for the chorus's huge Revolver-worthy four-part harmony that the collaboration finally starts feeling like a band, and the song really soars.

White steers clear of Benson's pop terrain with two dark standouts: the (almost) title track "Broken Boy Soldier" and the smoky sizzling blues closing number "Blue Vein." The former showcases a new level of brilliant weirdness from White, yelping "the boy never gets older" and "I'm done ripping myself off" like a helium-smacked Robert Plant (or perhaps an evil Munchkin) in a wicked groove reminiscent of Zeppelin's "Four Sticks."

The thankless task of being two not-quite-as-super parts of a four-man supergroup falls to bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler of Ohio garage-rocking critical darlings the Greenhorns-the same rhythm section White employed last year for his critically acclaimed Loretta Lynn collaboration. While drummer Keeler's one misstep is a big 'un-nearly drowning the album's sweetest pop song, "Yellow Sun," in drum patter so strident and busy that it robs this otherwise the gorgeous tune of subtlety and nuance-he easily redeems himself on the remaining nine tracks, revealing a knack for loose and propulsive rhythms in a diverse variety of musical styles, most notably on the thundering "Broken Boy Soldier."

Minus a couple under-produced/-written/-sung tunes-the meandering, chorus-free "Call It a Day" crawls to the finish line with nary a payoff in sight, and the purposefully obnoxious production on "Yellow Sun" renders the vocals nearly inaudible at times-what you have left is a tasty sneak preview EP of what could potentially turn into the coolest combo to rock the pop scene since hookers 'n' blow.


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