To most people, The Raconteurs - or as they are known in New Zealand due to an old jazz band, the Saboteurs - will to most people be a side-project rather than a supergroup. This is because most people have never heard of power-pop solo artist Brendan Benson, let alone the Greenhornes, whose rhythm section provide backup to Benson and White Stripes man, Jack White. However, while to most it's not a supergroup, in practice it most certainly is.
Pooling their considerable talents, the Raconteurs combine to form something that's not really like anything the four men have done before. I have long said that were Jack White to recruit a proper backing band (or even a decent drummer) I would willingly buy the record that would result, and Broken Boy Soldiers is that record; what an album it is.
While by no means perfect - `Blue Veins' is terrible, and unfortunately closes the album - Broken Boy Soldiers is a brilliant written, short, sharp pop record. At 33 minutes and ten songs long, with only one duff one, it wastes no time. None of the songs last longer than four minutes, but each of them crams a ton of invention and brilliance into that time slot. Brendan Benson, with his clear, Beatle-like voice melds wonderfully with Jack White's faintly unhinged, Robert Plant-meets-a-mental-patient vocals.
This album is clearly a democracy between Benson as the pop classicist and White as the experimentalist. Benson's songs are the lush, charming numbers like the perky `Yellow Sun'; White's are the often sinister boogies like `Level.' When they combine their talents is where things really take off, with the albums handful of truly great songs.
`Steady, As She Goes' is the opener, first single, and first song the two wrote together. No wonder they decided to take it on from here, with its storming chorus explosion, call-and-response vocals and malevolent organ backing. `Hands' is one of the contenders for best song here and best song of 2006; its faintly psychedelic, spiralling first section even has a brief guitar fill that sounds like vintage George Harrison guitar, circa-1966. `Store Bought Bones' fits a head-wrecking psych-prog epic into just over two minutes, with a recurring keyboard motif and a euphoric, squealing guitar solo from White. Best of all, `Intimate Secretary' blends feedback, synths and a stabbing acoustic guitar riff to some faintly hilarious lyrics (`I had an uncle but he got shot/I've got a red Japanese tea pot'), an amalgamation of this album's best points and the beauty of the White/Benson/Greenhornes combination.
Coupled with - it must be said - a competent, nay, brilliant rhythm section, White has finally broken his self-induced boundaries and made a vintage pop album. It could've come out thirty years ago; instead it's come out this year. Count yourself lucky, and add it to your collection.