So, this is the lasting effect of the fast one Radiohead pulled with In Rainbows. A band thinks it can beat the Internet (and you, sinister downloader) by announcing the release of a new album a mere eight days before it hits shelves. It could have worked, too, if the album hadn’t leaked the Friday before — and if it weren’t completely staid.
When the Raconteurs first dropped out of nowhere with their debut LP, 2006’s Broken Boy Soldiers, their novelty was the fact that Jack White was playing in a new band (gasp!), and it had three other guys, including one who could actually play drums (gasp!!). The album is a hodgepodge of what had worked for the contributing members individually (Brendan Benson’s powerpop, White’s blues, and the Greenhornes’ garage rock) but sounded like the best tracks were raped and pillaged from tossed-off Let It Be B-sides.
With Consolers of the Lonely, the Raconteurs are still content to play record-collection plunderers, but instead of ripping what they can from the ’60s, they spend much of the album as twenty-first-century stand-ins for Grand Funk Railroad, Blue Oyster Cult and Three Dog Night, playing big, limp, calculated rock ‘n’ roll.
Brokey Boy Soldiers’ greatest strength was how all four members were content to let themselves to disappear into the sonic fabric. Consolers of the Lonely, however, serves largely as a showcase for White — an acknowledgment of the fact that he’s the real reason anyone bought their first album. White dominates on the flat “You Don’t Understand Me,” the Blue Oyster Cult B-side “Hold Up,” “Top Yourself,” the merely okay “Five on the Five,” and the downright awful “Carolina Drama,” a slow march to irrelevance.
Benson does his best to keep up with his more talented counterpart, delivering some the album’s more tolerable moments: the country-baiting “Old Enough,” the lounge performance-esque “The Switch and the Spur,” and album highlight “Attention.” But he is clearly second fiddle here.
Also worth noting is the fact that Patrick Keeler (drums) and Jack Lawrence (bass) are what give the band its lifeblood. Without these two, Benson and White would be lost. Their propulsive rhythm single-handedly saves first single “Salute Your Solution” from White and Benson’s lazy lyrical showdown.
This push-and-pull dynamic for control of the band may be all in my head, but when you line up Consolers of the Lonely and Broken Boy Soldiers, there’s a noticeable difference. On the latter, White is merely a role player, a member of the band. On the former, he is the main draw, with his fingerprints on nearly every chorus and melody, leaving the rest of the band as nothing more than backups.
I’m sure the Raconteurs feel they’ve made some moral victory by releasing their album with a short lead time, no marketing, and forbidding anyone in the press to have an advance listen — trying to put the music first. But that is misleading, considering the method they’ve chosen here is solely to maximize profits.
They’ve taken the novel Radiohead approach and subverted it. Instead of putting an emphasis on fan participation in the release of the album, by allowing fans to decide how much to pay, the Raconteurs put an emphasis on fan’s monetary participation in the release of the album. They don’t want to get music to the fans quickly or cheaply. They want to get music, in the matter of a week, to fans willing to buy their albums for $16 a pop.
Too bad Consolers of the Lonely isn’t worth it.