Consolers of the Lonely, the thunderous second album by The Raconteurs, was altogether unexpected. It was announced with almost zero fanfare in March of 2008, and released just days later. The Raconteurs pounded it out in roughly a week, and it was in the hands of listeners just three weeks after that. It’s also surprising how much more fleshed-out it is than Broken Boy Soldiers, which had an understated quality, solid but unspectacular. This follow-up is much more complex and ambitious in its way, with a lot more to say and lot more time in which to say it. But most surprising of all is that Consolers of the Lonely might just be the best album Jack White has ever been involved in, a crowd-pleasing rocker with big hooks, beefy riffs, and all sorts of loving tributes to the classic rock of the 1970s. It’s an altogether fun album from beginning to end.
Given that Icky Thump flirted with The White Stripes’ mainstream success more openly, it should perhaps be unsurprising that Consolers Of The Lonely would be so broad. It goes for the big hook far more often than Jack White ever has, or ever would again. Several songs, like “Old Enough,” start fun and catchy, and then become progressively bigger and more rewarding as they go. Others, like “Many Shades of Black” start out blaring toward the rooftops, and still manage to find a way to amp it up. That’s to say nothing of the melodramatic numbers, like the parched Wild West anthem “The Switch And The Spur” and the Southern Gothic murder tale “Carolina Drama.” This is not subtle music, but instead favors the bold statement, all while maintaining that fun 1970s aesthetic that has marked every Jack White project.
But as on Broken Boy Soldiers, the real strength of Consolers of the Lonely is that it really isn’t just a Jack White project. All four members work together so well that almost every song feels like something that had to be created on this album. Even as it sounds big and bold, there’s an effortless quality to the music, as if these four members are indulging their dearest loves throughout. There are the tight harmonies between Jack White and Brendan Benson throughout the album, the chugging bass of Jack Lawrence on songs like “Attention,” and the full-on assault of Patrick Keeler’s drums on “Consoler of the Lonely.” It sounds like they had fun with this.
The best quality of Consolers is how it manages to find those moments that give chills, and the regularity with which it accomplishes this feat. There’s the back half of “Consoler of the Lonely,” where it switches to a breakneck tempo with parallel guitar lines. Or how about the ominous final tag at the end of “The Switch And The Spur,” punctuated by the portent “You shall never return”? The guitar solo in “Many Shades of Black” is positively spine-tingling as well. Over and over again, this album finds new ways to exhilarate and push even higher. It’s not exactly anthemic, more willing to go for the big payoff. It might even come off as sounding cliche if it wasn’t so effective.
You could make the case that the album is somewhat safe, and there might be some merit to that argument. This doesn’t exactly push the world of rock music forward, not like Elephant or White Blood Cells. Rather it is content to sound a lot like everyone’s favorite 1970’s rock. “Hold Up” sounds a lot like Zeppelin to me, and “Top Yourself” has the swagger and country tendencies of a strong Rolling Stones track. There’s a cover of the old Terry Reid number “Rich Kid Blues,” that manages to sound an awful lot like The Who. It comes off more as homage than imitation, a little like a band of extremely talented musicians writing love letters to their best influences.
But even if that’s the case, the backwards-looking tendency of every Jack White project has an intention. By 2008 rock was pretty much on life support, having lost ground to pop music and hip-hop in the popular consciousness. Like Daft Punk would do on Random Access Memories, a lot of Jack White’s career has been focused on getting people to remember why they fell in love with rock music in the first place. Never was this accomplished more fully than it was on Consolers of the Lonely, when all four the The Raconteurs were firing on all cylinders. As an album it is audacious in its scope, probably the most polished, over-the-top, and indulgent album and Jack White project would record. Because of that it feels more exciting, varied, and above all fun than almost any other Jack White project.
Alone In My Home (In which Nate shares his personal connection with Jack White’s albums):
No other Jack White album has as strong a personal connection for me as Consolers of the Lonely, because it was the soundtrack to the most important times of my adult life. It came out mere months before I married my wife, and it stayed in our car as the default CD in the player for a couple of years. That means that it was also what was playing as we drove to the hospital to have our first son. It has never received quite the same level of critical acclaim as anything by The White Stripes, and that’s fine. It doesn’t redefine what rock music can be. Instead it demonstrates just how raucous and enjoyable it can be, and it did so at a time when that was becoming more and more rare. I would still probably say Elephant is Jack White’s best album, but Consolers of the Lonely is my favorite.
Steady As She Goes (In which Nate ranks all of Jack White’s albums as he reviews them):
1. Consolers of the Lonely
3. Icky Thump
4. Get Behind Me Satan
5. White Blood Cells
6. De Stijl
7. Broken Boy Soldiers
8. The White Stripes