Happy 10th Anniversary to The Raconteurs’ second studio album Consolers of the Lonely, originally released March 25, 2008.
Some say that Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine, created the first supergroup with Cream. He put Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker together and they made four records and songs you still can’t escape fifty years down the line. In the decades since, supergroups pop up and fall away like teasers when musicians get bored. Supergroups are beloved across the ages from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Derek and the Dominoes to The Postal Service and The Breeders.
From Atoms for Peace to The Highwaymen, supergroups can be found in every music fan’s collection. Supergroups act as a time capsule—a mix of musicians showcasing what influenced them, breeding a new version of a genre already popular.
In the eclectic mix of this genre of supergroups are The Raconteurs, a merry band of bluesmen: Jack White, Brendan Benson, Patrick Keeler, and Jack Lawrence. They released two records together, toured the world (including a stint as Bob Dylan’s opening act for a leg of his 2006 American tour), and even won a Grammy. Their name quite literally defines them, especially the head raconteur in charge: Jack White.
Between the few years The Raconteurs were active, Jack White was a pretty busy dude. Their 2006 debut record Broken Boy Soldiers came out the year before the final White Stripes album 2007’s Icky Thump)was released—their fifth of the decade, sixth overall. The White Stripes didn’t officially announce their breakup until 2011, and by then White had formed another supergroup, The Dead Weather, and made two records with them. Since all of this, he continues to have a full calendar of projects, either as a producer, record maker, or recording artist.
White can stand alone and has—his third solo album arrived in stores yesterday, March 23rd—but his constant creative collaboration with artists far and wide is the proof in the pudding (he’s since worked with everyone from Beyoncé to Insane Clown Posse.) White has always pushed himself to create more and see what else he can do with limits. The Raconteurs were the first instance of this happening after he found fame with The White Stripes.
But it’s not just White that makes The Raconteurs what they are. There’s successful singer-songwriter Brendan Benson, whom you might know best from 2005’s The Alternative to Love. Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence are the rhythm section for The Greenhornes, a garage rock band from Cincinnati formed in 1996. Keeler also plays with The Afghan Whigs and Lawrence with City and Colour: they are supergroupers.
All four of The Raconteurs are multi-instrumentalists and it’s what makes Consolers of the Lonely such a strong record and the band’s best of their two to date.
The draw is in the album’s crescendos, within and between tracks. They place White’s familiar twisted guitar solos ( “Salute Your Solution”) next to strings ( “Old Enough”) and marvelous horn sections, layered in like buttercream frosting on the cake (“Many Shades of Black”). Consolers of the Lonely received the Grammy for Best Engineered Non-Classical Album and it’s obvious as to why: there is a world of sound between the breaks of these songs, each meticulously sewn into the hem and cuff.
It’s the longer of The Raconteurs’ two records and the songwriting stretches its arms farther than Broken Boy Soldiers. There are movements in these songs that swerve direction just as you were starting to follow (like on “Rich Kids Blues”). “Pull This Blanket Off” is the shortest, just a breath under two minutes, and sounds almost like an interlude. White slips in two final acoustic tracks “These Stones Will Shout” and “Carolina Drama,” the latter reading like a folk short story.
Consolers of the Lonely is better than Broken Boy Soldiers because it’s more sonically diverse. The group’s most famous song “Steady, As She Goes” lives on Broken Boy Soldiers but it’s not the popularity of a single that makes an album whole. On this second record, the four raconteurs became close and comfortable with one another. White and Benson share lead vocal duties again and they continue to complement each other: Benson’s pop sensibility is a nice gloss on the rasp and twang of White’s. Pair that, again, with a rhythm section that’s been playing together for ten years and counting, and everything is tightly wrapped with sharp corners.
Consolers of the Lonely is a brainstorm of all their biggest ideas as a band. And it’s full of the little things, like the addition of The Memphis Horns—a group famous for their decades of performances with Stax artists like Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding. The horns find their way into the guitar’s wail in the intro on “Five on the Five” and it captivates me every time I crank up the volume on that track. They are brief but they’re there: just another layer.
The keys also take a step further than they did on Broken Boy Soldiers. On Consolers of the Lonely we also see piano, organ, and stylophone credits. The star of track three, “You Don’t Understand Me,” is where the mood on the album shifts because of the piano, slowing us down and turning the tone. It’s recorded with the reverb of a grand hall. Cue the vocals and they’re clear and close. This balance of timbres is what marks the group’s precision. We also have Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age playing the clavinet, an amplified clavichord that helped rock music find its progression in the 1960s and 1970s. (Supergroup side note: Fertita also plays in The Dead Weather.)
Benson and White have this ability as producers to showcase a musician’s craft. The band knows its beginnings and we can even see them on the album cover: Tennessee, Michigan, and Ohio. There are folk and country sounds throughout Consolers of the Lonely that act as a reminder of rock’s roots. The black and white photograph of the four men on a carnival stage reminds me of what hippies were doing in the sixties: an open platform in a public outside space with flags, masks, and face painting just out of frame; think Jim Jones singing in white face in Todd Haynes’ 2007 film “about” Bob Dylan I’m Not There.
But in the past ten years, all four musicians have moved on. And it’s White that’s in the headlines and on magazine covers.
Despite the range of talent in The Raconteurs, I believe it’s White’s fame that attracted listeners in the first place. Fans know his style and the substance he’s capable of (see the worldwide anthem “Seven Nation Army” became since its release in 2003). He is the strongest personality and selling point as a raconteur. He’s always owned his own masters (money, among many things, is creative freedom) and as THE label head at Third Man Records, his output is overwhelming. Without him, I’m not sure this supergroup would have found as much success and I doubt they’d ever go on without him—it wouldn’t be the same.
In 2014, Brendan Benson explained to Billboard that “a third Raconteurs record is kind of off the table.” And based on what Jack White is up to, and what he recently told Rolling Stone, there’s no telling what he’s going to do next. (But it’s not like we’ve ever known. He once released a song by balloon.)
I’m willing to bet that The Raconteurs met their end with Consolers of the Lonely. We very well could be in for a new Raconteurs album someday, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Instead, I’ll scream and thrash along to the electricity of this record whenever I’m feeling lonely.