Raconteur, (rak' on-ter) n, person clever in telling stories, anecdotes, etc.
Remember a time
when all was not fine
and up from the dingy sewers
came four lousy thieves
who flourished like trees
behold The Raconteurs...
I was anticipating this one with great interest and I'm pleased that my man Jack White has not let me down. Unless you're new here, you'll already know that I adore Jack. Here he is one quarter of a band which includes singer-songwriter guitarist (and adorably cheekboned scruffy guy) Brendon Benson, as well as drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence of the Greenhornes.
Jethro couldn't wait to hear what ol' Jack could do with another guitarist, and --gasp--a bass player! and --gasp-- a REAL DRUMMER! (I do like Meg. I think she's unique but most drummers I know don't get her thing. Y'know.)
I regret not getting to last September's White Stripes concert on time to see the Greenhornes. (Something about waiting in an unnamed studio waiting for a certain engineer to finish editing something...story of my life...)
These four guys mesh like this is the third album, rather than first. White and Benson trade vocals seamlessly. They also take on the production roles. Not everybody should take the do-it-yourself approach, but they can get away with it successfully.
This album is short and sweet and slightly mysterious. My first impression on listening to it is the timelessness. What era is this? These guys all favour vintage gear and analog tape. I'd also guess that Jack White's spent some time listening to Robert Plant.
All the elements of a Beautiful Mess are there: the tape hiss, the glorious amplifier buzz, the count-ins, the murmured snippets of conversation before songs. Don't kid yourself though. Everything is intentional. I listened to it in the family room in surround. There's a lot of detail.
I put it through a few tests:
The dining room test: Passed. It's groovy enough to enjoy while dining with the kids. It's not so dark and down that it'll turn you off your food.
The rainy day test: Passed. Oh yeah. For real.
The Jethro/Jetta test: PASSED! Yay! When he could no longer deal with the hot mastering on the Chili Peppers record, he put this in and said something like, "There. Hear that? That doesn't hurt. I can turn it up and it doesn't hurt me. Can you get that?"
Plus, he's pleased with the songwriting. Those are his sticking points. And yes, it's pretty good highway music.
Family room stereo test: I put this on downstairs and sat on the couch, directly in front of the speakers on the front wall and between the surround speakers. I turned it up to 40. Wow. Just, wow. What a production. It all sounds so simple at low volume but there is so much going on!
(I love this. I wish I could get paid to listen to music and be wowed.)
The songs, all written by Benson and White, are solid and memorable. The standout tracks are; Steady, As She Goes, which is the first single; Intimate Secretary; Store Bought Bones; and the stunning, and lovingly Zeppelinesque, Blue Veins. It stands up as a whole complete album, rather than a collection of singles.
The packaging adds to the era-confusion. With earth tones, gilded details, and calligraphy, it has an old look to it. You'll know by looking that this isn't a happy sunshiney fun times party record. My only complaint is the lack of lyrics. Having said that, it's not hard to hear the words, and I suspect that these story tellers are forcing us to listen.
This record is cool, moody, and dark. It makes me want to walk around barefoot in jeans and a corduroy shirt, with my hair centre parted and hanging in waves over my cheekbones. It makes me wish my truck was twenty years older.