As one of the most-anticipated records of the year so far, expectations were understandably quite high for the Raconteurs' debut full-length. I'll begin under the assumption that you are already aware of the band bio and each member's respective resume. If not, you are probably reading this blog by mistake and won't make it through this rambling mess anyway.Broken Boy Soldiers
comes out of the gate strong with first single, "Steady, As She Goes". While the bass line is a nearly note-for-note rip of Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?", it quickly transcends its laughable template and blossoms into a simple, yet tasty pop treat. "Steady, As She Goes" provides a glimpse into how the band's dynamic will unfold, but it is second track "Hands" which serves as the first true indication that the Raconteurs are not going to be the White Stripes-redux. "Hands" features Brendan Benson on lead vocals and -- considering Benson's solo material sometimes veers towards the MOR singer-songwriter territory -- it initially comes across like a standard Benson album cut with White on backing vocals. While "Hands" is a grower and improves upon multiple listens, it was ultimately a poor choice for the second track position.
Following the lackluster "Hands", BBS
recovers quickly and with a vengeance on the title-track. "Broken Boy Soldier" is a charged romp featuring droning guitar figures, White's best Robert Plant meets Geddy Lee vocal stylings, and Patrick Keeler's ride cymbal assault. White sounds like a man possessed when he wails through lines like, "I'm child and man then child again." It is moments like when Jack screams "THE BOY!" at the 2:25 mark that make him arguably the best rock star in modern music. You simply have to hear the tune to truly appreciate this point.
Having fully recovered from the second track misstep, the band plunges head-long into "Intimate Secretary"-- another heavily Benson-influenced track. While the song has some cringe-producing forced lines such as, "I've got a rabbit, it likes to hop/i've got a girl and she's likes to shop", Jack White does his best to keep the song afloat with his distorted, panned a little too far back-in-the-mix vocals during the psychedelic refrains. He succeeds to some extent, and though the song is not incorrigibly written, one does get the distinct impression that without the star power present on the track it would not fare nearly as well.
At this point of the record, one is understandably concerned that things could go south fast
. But, thankfully, the one-two punch of "Together" and "Level" arrives to quickly to quash that fear. "Together" starts off with a fairly ominous sign: Brendan Benson again on lead vocals. While he's is in no way a bad vocalist, up to this point his more-prominent presence has coincided with the album's weakest tracks. But, Benson redeems himself here and the song is the album's most pleasant surprise and probably the best example of collaboration between the two vocalists. The song has the effortless vibe and strong songwriting reminiscent of when John and Paul were on top of their game. "Level" is most White Stripes-ish song here and, while incredibly straight-forward, the vocal trade-off and lead guitar work are spot-on.
The next two tracks are fairly unremarkable. "Store Bought Bones", the B-Side to "Steady, As She Goes", seems a bit rushed and vaguely like a work in progress. Aside from White's slide guitar flourishes intermittently scattered throughout, it fails to stir up much excitement. "Yellow Sun" is a mid-tempo number featuring acoustic guitar and organ and while pleasant enough, the song is lacking the type of hook that will draw one back for repeated listens.
The last two songs are essentially solo numbers from Benson and White respectively. White's closer "Blue Veins" fares much better than Benson's "Call It A Day", which is the weakest track on the album despite its curious Beatles-meets-Alice in Chains backing vocals. The track's primary problem is the simple fact it is essentially a series of o.k. verses in search of a chorus that never appears. Things are rounded out by "Blue Veins"; a strong -- albeit buy-the-numbers -- blues ballad on which Jack tolls the virtues of his lady friend. The song was the most logical choice as the closing number, but Jack could most likely write tunes like this in his sleep.
So, there you have it. To be sure, the album is not the blockbuster many people (including me) thought that this indie super-group was capable of; but that is not to say there are not a few great tracks present on Broken Boy Soldiers
. I believe the record would have greatly benefited with Jack White taking more of a lead role, but it is entirely understandable that the new-found freedom of being in an actual band was a breath of fresh air and he was content to let things come together naturally. The most lasting impression one gets upon listening to Broken Boy Soldiers
is that it is the product of four very talented musicians not over-thinking it and just creating tunes that they enjoy playing with very little concern with writing hit songs or over how the end result would be viewed in the eyes of critics.
Suggested Downloads: "Broken Boy Soldier", "Together", "Level"Buy the album here.