Jack White is not the same boy we've always known. Although he's played the part of both the coy adolescent and the Southern-gentleman-on-the-skids in the past, the lead White Stripe's work with the Raconteurs is perhaps most akin to late musical puberty. Given the former Jack Gillis' preoccupation with stage character, it doesn't seem far-fetched to hear the Raconteurs as an acknowledgment that White needed a new creative persona to deal with these tingly arena-rock feelings he's been having lately.
With a machine gun groove, parts of the album-opening title track on the quartet's surprise new release, Consolers of the Lonely, sound like the "love gun's loaded" bridge to Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom." And while one can easily imagine smoke machines spurting during many of the album's 13 other tracks, there is no irony in the mix. Just fun.
After all, it's White and the dudes: indie-pop charmer Brendan Benson and the Greenhornes' Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler. Sometimes, White and Benson play off each other in pleasingly predictable ways. On "You Don't Understand Me," they pull a Lennon/McCartney: White digs into a typical put-down ballad ("you don't understand me, but if the feeling was right, you might comprehend me") before they alight into a rich, obvious Benson chorus ("and there's always another point of view, a better way to do the things we do"), eventually combining to echo one another. There's also the spitfire joy of first single "Salute Your Solution" and plenty that sounds like it could've been on a Stripes disc, like the Stonesy refrain of "Hold Up."
They also seem a bit more ambitious, even employing horns. On "The Switch and the Spur," the brass adds mariachi flourishes, eventually building towards a Tenacious D finale ("as sure as the sun doth shine!"). But Benson's "Many Shades of Black" just as earnestly channels Stevie Wonder.
The negative space White carved between the Stripes' peppermint swirls remains such a strong gravitational force that it all but carries the record's first listens. Likewise, it is fine to declare, as the Raconteurs did in a press release, that they wanted "to get this record to fans, the press, radio, etc., all at the EXACT SAME TIME so that no one has an upper hand on anyone else regarding its availability, reception, or perception." But it also helps if you're the Raconteurs and make big, joyous songs that sound, in the first anticipatory listens of early spring, like they have all the trappings of delicious summer jams.