Broken Boy Soldiers
While much has been made of The Raconteurs finally being that crack-hotshit full-band Jack White’s so richly deserved after years and years and years toiling in his self-induced minimalist blues explosion … well … never mind.
Never mind the expectations. Never mind the possibilities. Never mind that dude whose quote got so twisted and turned he ended up saying Broken Boy Soldiers was going to be the next … Never mind. Jack’s finally got the bass but now he’s got no base, and Broken Boy Soldiers is, sadly, just a grimy Brendan Benson album with some hair on its balls.
Agh, but it looked so good on paper didn’t it? Remarkably sensible collaborations always do. White, the hyper-influenced excruciatingly self-limiting self-reactionary guitar GOD (#11 all-time right?), teams up with criminally overlooked power-pop wunderkind/best friend Benson, who fashions Beatles-esque hooks so catchy and with such ease they may as well call them lassos. These guys needed each other.
But instead of consolidating their respective strengths, Broken Boy Soldiers is White and Benson compromising them in favor of finding an agreeable but ultimately dull and colorless middle ground.
Oh, the bass is there, but it’s riding bitch with its seatbelt on.
And the drums are there too: functional, efficient, and completely charmless.
Still, the contributions of the Greenhornes’ rhythm section aren’t/weren’t ever really the issue: it’s what was going to happen when these two critically-reviewed songwriters (say what you will, hate all you want, these guys know what they’re doing with a tune) got together. Well, unfortunately absolutely almost nothing here finds White enhancing the sheer pop perfection of Alternative to Love’s “Spit it Out” or Lapalco’s “What,” nor does it find Benson enriching the Stripes aesthetic with his distinct attention to melody, arrangement, and texture. And that seeeeeeeeeeemed to have been the whole point of this entire exercise in the first place, but they didn’t deliver. And that’s a darned shame.
The closest the duo come is the Benson-led “Hands.” His carefree melody borne straight out of “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” gets Barry Bonds cream rubbed all over it by White’s distinct riffage, building to the song’s pulverizing overdriven chorus with both singing, “When you're with me there's a life and I can see my way / When you speak to me it's a song and I know what to say.” It’s a far better indication of the potential of the White/Benson alliance than its curious single, “Steady as She Goes,” whose sole bright spot is Benson’s subtle background harmonies. The rest of it is just expensive grimy garage rock and, due in large part to Jack White himself, there’s more than enough of that around already, thanks.
Benson’s “Together,” which recalls the simple and heartfelt folk-pop of Lapalco’s “Metarie,” actually suffers from White’s intrusive and wholly unnecessary backup vocals. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say White’s very presence is something of an albatross on the entire project. “Level” features White’s all-too-familiar slow-grinding blues repeated ad nauseam, and the album closes, albeit following two curiously boring and unnecessary Benson ballads, with “Blue Veins,” the most Zeppelin-aping song Jack White has ever appeared on this side of “Screwdriver.” And that’s quite a feat, all things considered.
Somehow “Store Bought Bones” manages to be the album’s sole reprieve, all swirling distorted keys, stutter-step drums, and Jack White’s soaring guitar until the song completely drops out for near perfect three-part harmonies, “You can't buy what you can't find / What you can't buy, what you find / What you can't buy, what you can.” It’s dynamic, propulsive, synergetic. It’s everything Broken Boy Soldiers could have been and yet it’s still not quite all that good enough. But then remarkably sensible collaborations hardly ever are. Never mind.
Reviewed by: Barry Schwartz
Reviewed on: 2006-05-17