Is Jack White better off working with only one other person? The second album from his frisky-boys side project causes you to wonder. As on 2006’s Broken Boy Soldiers, White and friends make like kids bashing out AC/DC knockoffs in a suburban garage. His sheer delight at playing off more than just Meg is evident in the bench-pressed riffs of “Five on the Five” and “Salute Your Solution”; the slide-driven “Top Yourself” beefs up the Stripes’ often malnourished, Led Zepderived arena blues.
But too often, the Raconteurs’ love of twisty, monolithic rock gives way to bombast that teeters between homage and parody. You don’t so much listen to Consolers of the Lonely as ask questions while it’s playing. Is “The Switch and the Spur” the closest anyone’s come this decade to mimicking Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge”? Are the hints of hair-metal power balladry in co-singer/guitarist Brendan Benson’s songs actually sincere? Did White intend for “Carolina Drama” to be little more than a compendium of every Southern-gothic family-tragedy cliché?
Now and then, the match-up of White’s emotional and musical volatility and Benson’s power-pop jones pays off: “You Don’t Understand Me” plays like a long-lost, bitter Badfinger outtake. But it’s also easy to imagine Meg White listening to Consolers of the Lonely and thinking it’s too damn complicated for its own good.